Costco good. Roundabouts bad.
That was the prevailing attitude at an informational open house Wednesday evening at Northwood Middle School, near the site along Highway 2 where Costco is planning to build a new warehouse store.
Officials from the state Department of Transportation were on hand to extol the benefits of many drivers’ most-hated traffic feature. The agency says a roundabout would be safer than a stoplight at the entrance to the Costco development, which will be situated on land owned by Kaiser Aluminum just outside Spokane city limits.
“Any time you have left turns onto a highway and left turns off of a highway, (roundabouts are) a much better option in terms of safety and efficiency,” said Brian Walsh, a traffic design engineer with the Department of Transportation. “You don’t lose any road capacity, and you lose very little travel time.”
Neighbors of the Costco development were skeptical, even as they spoke with transportation officials and perused various maps of the planned roadwork on display at Wednesday’s open house.
“This is stupid,” said Wayne Wittle, who worries free-flowing traffic from the roundabout will make it harder for him to enter the highway from his home on Winchester Avenue near Camelot Park.
Leslie and Dave Haupt, who also live in that neighborhood, had the same concern. When cars get backed up at the stoplight at Farwell Road, the couple said, there’s a gap in traffic where they can safely turn onto the highway from Winchester Avenue.
“I don’t have a problem with roundabouts in general,” said Eckart Salquist, who lives in the Green Bluff area and regularly shops at Costco’s current location on North Division Street. “But I’ve never seen roundabouts on a major highway.”
Walsh, the traffic engineer, conceded that the roundabout is a “counterintuitive” solution. But he said it will slow down traffic enough for side street access.
“You’re slowing down the mainline to benefit the side streets,” he said. “It’s a balance.”
And, Walsh said, the state has plenty of roundabouts on four-lane highways that operate smoothly. For example, there are four roundabouts within 5 miles of Highway 539 in Whatcom County.
“This isn’t unproven,” he said. “We’re not just experimenting on the eastern side of the state.”
Signs will indicate where each lane in the roundabout leads, he said. The design of the roundabout will allow for a fourth entrance on the west side, which is private land. There are currently no plans to build a road there.
Pittsburg Street currently adjoins the highway near the planned roundabout, but under the Department of Transportation’s plan it will end in a cul-de-sac. Some residents said they use that street as a shortcut between Highway 2 and Farwell Road.
The Department of Transportation also has long-term plans to remodel the highway intersection at Farwell Road, said Al Gilson, a department spokesman. Plans to build roundabouts along the highway at Day Mount Spokane Road and at state Highway 206 have been canceled, Gilson said.
While many neighbors focused frustration on the roundabout, a few were upset about the store itself.
Sarah Olson, who started a change.org petition to halt the project, questions why the Issaquah-based retailer would move one of its stores from a dense commercial sector in north Spokane to the sparse, wooded area along the highway. Big-box stores aren’t wanted there, she said.
“Why are we making this just an extension of the crap that’s on North Division Street already?” Olson asked.
Site plans show the new Costco will be about 167,000 square feet, 33,000 square feet bigger than the location at 7619 N. Division St., which opened in 1992 and was remodeled in 2007.
The city annexed that location from the county in 2008 after it became a flashpoint for political controversy. As part of a legal settlement, the city and county agreed to share portions of the store’s sales tax revenue. City leaders recently said they have no plans to annex the new location.
The proposed site of the new Costco – a 20-acre piece of undeveloped land on the east side of the highway – is near a plume of groundwater contaminants, including fluoride and cyanide, byproducts of the smelting process that Kaiser Aluminum performed on the site for years, officials have said. The store will avoid those contaminants, which have been difficult to clean up, by hooking up to municipal sewer and water systems.
Construction hasn’t begun, and Costco has yet to purchase the land. The company is waiting until the county issues building permits. Buying the land could make Costco partially liable for the groundwater cleanup.
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