What's Up with That? Clark County makes judgment call to add lighting on 10th Avenue

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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Now that the big street improvement project is winding down on Northeast 10th Avenue between 141st and 149th streets, it's looking increasingly clear that street lights are NOT going to be part of the equation. Driving that stretch of road at night has always been difficult as you go from a well-lit area near 139th Street to virtually no lights at all north of there. Oncoming headlights make it difficult to see, especially when you approach a sharp downhill at 148th and 149th streets. I'd hoped the project to raise 10th Avenue to urban standards would also include urban street lighting. Why hasn't it? Don't get me wrong, it's a great new street. But it'd sure be nice to be able to actually see it — and see where I'm going.

— Blinded by the headlights in Salmon Creek

Good news, Blinded: The county sees it your way.

"We are going to be putting in some lighting immediately north of 149th on 10th Avenue where there's a dip in the road," said county public works spokesman Jeff Mize. "This is because of safety issues. When you drive that dip, your headlights are pointing down and you don't necessarily see oncoming traffic."

But Mize added that the overall street improvement project was "not designed with streetlights in mind." The design called for travel lanes and a center turn lane, bike lanes, sidewalks and landscaping — but no lights. The decision to add lights for safety is the county's judgment call, Mize said, based on site specifics. There's a further plan too, extending 10th Avenue all the way up to 164th Street, and it, too, includes no lights. (You can take a look at the basics for both of these plans at clark.wa.gov/publicworks/construction/projects.html.)

Why not plan for lights? Don't most county roads in arguably urban areas get street lights as a matter of course?

Nope. Mize dug up a Board of Clark County Commissioners resolution that governs roadway lighting. The general policy is that such lighting "shall be restricted" to places where lights would establish "a definite safety advantage." The resolution specifically says mentions examples like railway crossings, major intersections and high-volume public institutions (hospitals, schools, libraries) — as well as "unusual or unexpected" situations. The big dip on 10th Avenue is one of those. There are additional criteria involving traffic and pedestrian volumes as well as accident statistics.

Want to guess when that resolution was adopted by Clark County? It was in 1978. Mize said it has never been updated or revised since then.

"Certainly there has been growth in the unincorporated urban area," he agreed. "But nothing I am aware of has caused the county to take another look at that policy."

By the way, the policy also says that the cost of residential and security lighting should be borne by the parties that benefit from that lighting — through local improvement districts or other private means. These days, subdivision developers include street lights as a basic amenity in their own plans. If you live in a Clark County subdivision, you probably pay a lighting assessment as part of your county tax bill.