Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, January 30, 2006

Yes Virginia, There is No Santa Claus

Virginia Henderson wrote the following op-ed piece in today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
The Pullman Planning Commission has a problem. It wasn’t — and isn’t — prepared for the record-setting new home-growth rate that shows no sign of slowing.

That needs to change and fast.

Consider the nightmare on Larry Street one snowy day last December. Traffic was backed up a quarter of a mile at Larry and Hall Drive. Larry is the only street leading in and out of the new housing subdivision near the high school.

That day, a car got stuck in the snow.

The congestion wasn’t unusual. Parked cars often block roadways, causing all sorts of mayhem when a football game or other event is going on at the high school.

Resident Marcus Crossler asked commission members last week what would happen if there should be a crisis at the high school. Emergency response personnel might find their path blocked. Or, what if there’s a fire and trucks can’t get through?

He didn’t get a satisfactory answer.

Commission member Leonard Streva put it this way: “Our problem here in Pullman is we’re an old community that has lain dormant, but all of a sudden we’re expanding ... these problems will be taken care of, but it’s going to take time.”

Time isn’t something Pullman has.

Tough decisions must be made when there isn’t a second arterial road to connect a development. Planning Commission Chairman John Anderson said that’s expensive for developers. While City Code requires two ways in and out of a development, the $100 per linear foot cost to do that is prohibitive.

That’s too bad.

A spendy secondary access road should be the developers’ problem, not the residents’.

Anderson said some of the developments popping up around Pullman wouldn’t happen at all if the city required major road building.

Here’s an idea. These subdivisions shouldn’t “happen.”

They should be allowed only after developers satisfy the law. Otherwise, they can wait until the infrastructure reaches their land.

The people responsible for ensuring the city’s thoughtful and safe growth should be looking out for residents, not developers.
I live off of Larry Street in the same "subdivision" as Mr. Crossler. I was there the morning this incident took place. His accounts of the snowy intersection debacle are VERY overexaggerated.

From the National Weather Service Spokane Office:
The first 20 days of the month [December 2005] saw temperatures below freezing in Spokane and many other locales. Many of those days saw high temperatures barely reach 20 degrees. This cold weather pattern resulted from a strong ridge of high pressure centered along the west coast. The Inland Northwest was on the cold and dry side of this ridge. Thus the first 20 days of the month was dominated by cold and dry weather. The lack of storm systems was troublesome to mountain locations, as the early snow that fell in November was slow to accumulate during the first half of December. Throughout this cold, dry period many valley locations had a modest snow pack of 3 to 12 inches on the ground, and it looked like a white Christmas was all but a certainty.
The City won't start plowing streets until there is at least four inches of accumulation. After that first snow storm, it was too late. With temperatures not rising above freezing for weeks, the snow on the road was compacted into a solid sheet of ice several inches thick. A fresh coat of frost from the freezing fog every morning didn't help matters. It was too cold for de-icing chemicals to work. About all the City could do was keep putting down gravel.

Anyone that lives up here knows that the intersection at Hall and Larry can be treacherous. It is built on a slope. Heading eastbound on Larry, you go up a small incline before stopping at the sign. That's a recipe for fishtailing. I have studded snow tires, have been driving in snow my whole life, and I almost got stuck. Even four-wheel drives were having trouble. I saw the lady Mr. Crossler was talking about get stuck. I don't know if she had snow tires or not, or if she was an experienced winter driver. But it was no big deal. A couple of guys got out of their cars and pushed her out of the way. The total delay couldn't have been more than five minutes. No life, limb, or property was ever in any danger that I could see. The way into our development was wide open the whole time. People were able to go around her.

Sheesh. Why the hysteria? Don't people like Virginia Henderson and Marcus Crossler understand that we live on four steep hills in an area prone to ice and snow in the winter. This is Washington, not Florida. Ever wonder why there are all those big rigs driving around town? It's not to contribute to global warming, I can tell you that. Why do some people insist that the government have a solution for EVERY one of life's little hassles?

As far as the street parking goes, I agree that it probably needs to be stopped. There is plenty of parking at the high school for baseball and football games. I think it is a vestige from the days when Larry ended at the high school. It doesn't cause "mayhem", but some teenage boy running across the street is going to get hit one day or someone is going to lose a car door.

What does the weather have to do with the City building roads anyway? Normally, Larry Street is NEVER congested. Busy sometimes, yes, but no gridlock. These people whining about Pullman "traffic" need to get out more. I suggest the Renton S-curves on I-405 on a rainy Friday afternoon. That'll give you some perspective.

Even more shocking than the lack of knowledge about climate and traffic exhibited was the complete silliness of recommending that the City build roads BEFORE a housing development is built. Did Ms. Henderson read the bit about $100 per linear foot. That would mean a road like Larry Street from Hall to its current end would cost the City HALF A MILLION DOLLARS. How could we ever afford to build all these "roads to nowhere", on the off chance that a developer may build there? And forcing developers to pay for all the secondary access road construction would make housing in Pullman even more unaffordable than it is now.

Yes Virginia, there is no Santa Claus with a big wad of highway funds tucked in his sleigh. Mr. Streva is right. Growth will pay for itself. With those record number of houses last year will come a record amount of property tax revenue. Now if we can just get Wal-Mart built, we can start to recapture that $92 million in taxable sales revenue we lose every year. Then maybe we can build some streets. See how it all fits together?


April E. Coggins said...

Can I give Virginia a memory of one snowy day on Anthony Street, back in 1984, when I was in a five car pile up. Stop everything! Nothing should be built in Pullman until we solve the snow vs. hill problem!

WSUStretch said...

Actually, most new streets are build by developers of new subdivisions. The city specs them out according to Zoning code, and then they are more of less deeded to the city as right of ways. Those costs are partially what gets passed on to the purchaser of new building lots.

Ray Lindquist said...

Can I suggest the Everett crawl on I-405 on a sunny dry Friday afternoon about 4:30 maybe as late as 6:30 pm you can bet on top speed of 5 maybe 10 miles per hour. Save me, save me, 'almighty' state. What a joke; "The State" a savior.