Crews worked frantically on Tuesday to finish up odds and ends for King County’s “grand reopening” of a 1.2-mile segment of the East Lake Sammamish Trail at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
The section — roughly between SE 33rd St. and SE 43rd Way in Sammamish — is the penultimate section of the 11-mile bicycle trail between Redmond and Issaquah to be upgraded from crushed gravel to pavement.
The extensive work during the year-long closure will be celebrated at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the new Trail Plaza at SE 33rd St. Event organizers ask that you either ride your bike there (it’s about 1.5 miles north of the Lake Sammamish boat launch) or take the shuttle from the boat launch to the grand opening site.
Like other sections that have been upgraded, the newest paved segment (called South Sammamish Segment A) is 12 feet wide with a 2-foot-wide soft shoulder on either side as well as another foot of clearance. Before the work, which began in December 2016, the trail was about 8 feet wide.
Check out the photo for one of the coolest — and most contentious — features of the trail. The stop signs regulate vehicular traffic at 4 road crossings; bicyclists and other trail users don’t have to stop.
King County reasoned that cars should have to stop when crossing the trail because more people on bicycles and on foot pass through the intersections than motorists. The cross streets serve small enclaves of lakeside residents.
When the City of Sammamish got wind of this last spring, city officials issued a stop work order on the trail that delayed work on the project. The county sued the city and won in federal district court. The judge ruled that the county had the right to put the stop signs wherever it wanted, and the city could not issue any more delays. Work went ahead, but the city and residents appealed and the case is headed to the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals this spring.
Observers might wonder why this trail has been so contentious. It’s a long and curious battle.
The county acquired the right-of-way of the Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway in 1998 and battled neighbors in court for several years for the right to turn it into a recreational amenity to the community.
The crushed stone trail opened in 2006, and the first paved section in Redmond reopened in 2011. The start of work on the current segment in December 2016 had been delayed for nearly a year over disagreements about removal of some trailside trees.
When the final 3.5-mile segment (South Sammamish B) will close for its makeover is anyone’s guess. It runs from SE 33rd Street to the vicinity of the Parkway NE/NE Inglewood Hill Road. In several places, trailside property owners have encroached on the right of way.
Earlier this month, a city hearing examiner denied a shoreline permit that would have allowed the South Sammamish Segment B to go ahead.
In his Jan. 5, 2018, decision, the hearing examiner found that King County’s application was incomplete. He noted:
“There is so much antagonism and conflict among the various parties that not even a Solomon could craft a decision to satisfy everyone.”
The Cascade Bicycle Club blog reported the hearing examiner wrote that there are opportunities for the city and county to work together in good faith on the project. Cascade urges residents to remind the City of Sammamish that the trail matters to the community.
Cascade also reported that the city of Sammamish has petitioned the Surface Transportation Board to have veto rights over King County in the old railroad corridor.
“That would require a change to one of the fundamental tenets of federal railbanking rules that have enabled King County’s extensive network of trails on disused railways, and could have impacts on trails far and wide nationally. The petition has attracted the opposition of the national Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC). Cascade is supporting the RTC’s efforts to fight this petition.”
This delay of the South Sammamish B segment means that the trail will remain open to bicycle riders from SE 56th St. in Issaquah to the city of Redmond, a distance of about 10 miles. The Marymoor Connector and Sammamish River Trail enable connections to the Burke-Gilman Trail all the way to Seattle.
The southernmost mile of the East Lake Sammamish Trail in Issaquah remains closed for the indefinite future for construction of the SE 61st Street connector.