Controversy delays next paving project on East Lake Sammamish Trail

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A dispute over how many mature trees to preserve along a section of the East Lake Sammamish Trail — and other issues — has delayed upgrading a 1.3-mile segment of the rail-trail.

Delayed section of East Lake Sammamish Trail

Delayed section of East Lake Sammamish Trail

The rail-trail runs between Redmond and Issaquah for 11 miles. Originally opened as a narrow, crushed rock pathway along the old railroad right-of-way in 2006, King County has been paving the trail with asphalt and upgrading it to national standards for width and sight distance.

So far, 6.1 miles of the trail has been paved and widened to 12 feet, with 2-foot gravel shoulders and another 1-foot buffer on each side.

King County wanted to get started on the latest phase of paving the rail-trail this fall between SE 43rd Way and SE 33rd Street, known as South Sammamish Segment A. They’re disputing some of the restrictions put on the project by City of Sammamish.

Although the county agreed to some conditions, other restrictions would prevent upgrading the trail to national guidelines for “suitable width, sufficient sightlines, soft-surface shoulders, and other important safety factors,” the county said in a press release. The national standards are set by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).

The county is appealing those permit restrictions, causing the delay. The trail remains open to bicyclists.

Lake views from newly opened trail section

Lake views from newly opened trail section

Primarily, the city of Sammamish is asking the county to narrow two sections of the project to preserve 63 “significant trees” and other vegetation. A “significant tree” is defined as a coniferous tree with a trunk diameter of 8 inches or greater and deciduous trees of 12 inches or greater.

The city says it wants to reduce the trail width by 3 feet over a 550-foot-long stretch to preserve those trees. The county says reducing the width makes the trail less safe.

Says Christie True, director of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, in a press release:

“Simply put, many of the 19 conditions in the city’s permit preclude us from building a safe trail with good sightlines and enough width to meet regional trail standards. … The public has had access to recently completed portions of the trail, and it has been proven to be very popular. These conditions would result in a lesser trail for the residents of Sammamish and King County.”

Sammamish city manager Ben Yazici was quoted in a press release:

“The emphasis on preserving trees reflects a growing sentiment in our community. Just last October we passed an emergency ordinance establishing interim tree regulations that require the preservation of more trees. Although a trail like this is exempt from those regulations, we feel it’s important to set a good example and show residents that their values are being taken seriously.”

Originally, King County called for removing 69 trees. After hearing from residents, the county realigned the trail in places to reduce the number of trees to be removed to 29 and monitored for hazards to 52.

The city permit, by reducing the width of the trail, reduces the number of removed trees to 25 and the number of trees monitored because of potential damage during grading to 25, according to the permit issued by the city, thereby preserving 63 trees that would be cut or monitored.

Stop sign

Also as issue is a stop sign on 206th Avenue SE at the trail crossing. The street dead-ends shortly past the trail and serves about a dozen lakes-side dwellings. Sammamish argues that the stop sign should be removed from the street and placed on the trail, because the street gets more traffic.

Formerly the route of the Seattle Lake Shore Eastern Railway, the rail-trail is part of a regional trail route that runs from Ballard to Issaquah utilizing the Burke-Gilman, Sammamish River, Marymoor Connector and East Lake Sammamish trails.

Find more information on the East Lake Sammamish Trail project.

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