Skykomish Valley Fire Chief warns excessive traffic on U.S. 2 delays emergency response

Warmer weather sprouts the promise of traffic and parking congestion along portions of US Highway 2 through the Skykomish Valley of East Snohomish County.

The main highway snaking through the region’s small towns connects Puget Sound to Central and Eastern parts of Washington. Communities like Startup, Sultan and Gold Bar have long endured the stop-and-go vehicle traffic, which increasingly spills over into neighborhood side streets.

"These residents are basically prisoners in their own homes on the weekends from Sultan to Index," Snohomish County Councilman and Washington Transportation Safety Commissioner Sam Low told The Daily Herald.

The delays also alarmed Sky Valley Fire Chief Eric Andrews. He wrote to Low and other elected delegates warning of delayed emergency response times.

Congestion slowed crews responding to an incident last year during Labor Day Weekend. Andrews told Q13 News traffic along the highway that particular day was especially bad.

"Luckily a person didn’t die," said Andrews. "It’s just a matter of time before something like that might happen."

In Startup, Pam Norton’s art and antique shop The Haystack Company is hard to miss. Plants, art and other oddities are strewn across the property’s front yard beckon travelers’ attention.

"More people are flocking to the outdoors," she said, noting traffic along U.S. 2 has been steady through the pandemic.

As winter begins to thaw, Norton says the highway in front of her business will soon turn into a parking lot. It always does when backups are at their worst.

"A lot of the times you can walk faster than the traffic’s moving," she said.

Andrews says congestion also pushes travelers to venture onto side roads seeking shortcuts. Instead, most routes ultimately lead back to the highway, packing neighborhood streets and delaying emergency responders in surprising ways.

"A couple of times we had volunteers tell us it took 25 minutes to get to the station," he said. "They live a mile away."

Legislators in Olympia continue debating several options including a possible bypass around Sky Valley neighborhoods.

Low told Q13 News it's the communities along the highway who suffer the most when congestion is at its worst.

"Chief Andrews and I are in agreement 100%," Low said in an email. "I appreciate him also drawing attention to this huge safety issue in East Snohomish County."