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Surprise! A long-planned I-405 expansion project is taking one family's new home
When Richard and Lori Randquist Chung first saw the house on Davis Street, they knew it was probably out of their price range but decided to look anyway.
As they walked in, Richard said he and his wife were elbowing each other, reminding themselves not to fall in love with what they were seeing.
But it didn’t quite work out that way.
Not only was the house beautiful, it was less than one mile from their business, had quick access on and off the highways and had a beautiful view of Lake Washington.
“It was perfect,” Richard Randquist Chung said this past week, remembering seeing his family’s home for the first time.
“As soon as I came in I was getting giddy,” Lori Randquist Chung said.
It was only the second home they looked at, but that was it, they were sold. They made an offer and by last summer, Richard, Lori and their three young children moved in and began to build their life.
All was well until a Friday evening a few weeks ago. Richard was doing some shopping when his cell phone rang. Seeing his real estate agent’s number, he picked up but immediately knew something wasn’t right.
“She’s crying on the phone,” he said.
The agent had just found out that the home the Randquist Chungs had been in for less than a year was in the way of the Interstate 405 expansion project and would have to be torn down, probably sooner rather than later.
The agent forwarded Richard an email that was sent to the builder of a new house across the street, telling him to stop building because the freeway was coming through.
The Randquist Chungs were stunned. They planned to spend the rest of their lives in their house. And in an instant, that was gone.
WSDOT confirmed for them that, yes, the freeway was coming through their neighborhood and, yes, their house would have to come down. A retaining wall was slated to go right through what was now their living room. It was devastating.
“We wouldn’t have purchased this house if we knew we were going to be displaced,” Lori said.
“Nobody notified us,” Richard said. “It completely blindsided us.”
But the Randquist Chungs were not the only ones surprised.
WSDOT surprised, too
In 2002, WSDOT officials completed a master plan for all 30 miles of Interstate 405. The freeway would be widened through the entire length of the corridor and the interchange between state Route 167 and I-405 would be rebuilt.
The interchange is a well-known mess among engineers and planners – and travelers.
“It’s one of the worst interchanges in the state,” said Ross Fenton, project engineer and lead designer on the project.
To correct the problem of freeway traffic merging with local traffic throughout the confusing clover leaf of an exit, the state made plans to completely revamp the entire interchange, including the addition of a direct connector between 167 and 405, to make it easier for the large number of cars that use that stretch of roadway every day.
The new flyover would require some expansion of the freeway and would have to cut into the Talbot Hill neighborhood, but the location of the road and retaining wall would have only cut through what was then a single large parcel of land with a single owner.
But because the entire corridor project was so expensive – about $1.5 billion – the project was divided into “logical constructible pieces” with plans to work first on the worst sections of the road and the interchange project sat on the shelf.
Funding began to arrive in the form of the 2003 and 2005 approvals by the legislature to increase the gas tax to go toward roadwork and work began on several stretches of 405. However, there was still no funding approved for the interchange project so again, so it sat on the shelf.
“There’s been this dry spell,” said Deputy Program Director Denise Cieri.
In 2008, the environmental assessment on the interchange project was approved, allowing the engineers to take a closer look at exactly where the freeway would go.
According to Cieri, at that time WSDOT went back to the neighborhood, where they had begun outreach in 2002 because of the planned need to take some land in the area.
But even in 2008, the area was still a single empty parcel with a single owner and seemed to pose no real problems to construction.
As projects along the 405 corridor came in early and under budget, the legislature in 2012 agreed to roll over the additional money to allow WSDOT to begin design work and right-of-way acquisition for the connector project.
So earlier this year, WSDOT officials “dusted off” the environmental document and were out surveying the Talbot Hill area and instead of finding a single empty parcel, they discovered a brand new, single-family neighborhood.
“They were surprised,” Cieri said. “They weren’t there looking for that, but they ran into it.”
A quick look at the plans showed that two of the new pieces of property that had been created since they were last there were going to be impacted by the construction. The first was a house under construction and the engineers immediately advised the builder that they might want to stop as the house they were building would likely be torn down soon anyway.
The second parcel was the Randquist-Chungs.
Cieri said WSDOT did not know the neighborhood had been built and called it “very unfortunate.”
“It complicates things,” Cieri said. “We weren’t expecting it when we started searching out detailed information for design.”
Usually during the design phase, WSDOT can work with property owners to move the roadway a bit here and there, but Cieri said that in 25 years with the department “such an unusual situation” as this had never happened.
“In this situation, unfortunately, I can’t work around them,” she said.