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The soul of Federal Way

99 and Federal Way Somewhere there exists – we’ve seen it but can’t find the name – a book on the part of Highway 99 that runs through the Northwest. You can find on two books covering the road’s mileage in California; writing on the northern stretch remains elusive. More is merited: There’s a lot of history here, and a lot of connection with the present.

Wikipedia says the road was built roughly out of the ages-old Siskiyou Trail, connecting Native Americans from the Puget Sound south into central and southern California. Settlers from the east dug the path more thoroughly, and in the car age it became the Pacific Highway, linking the borders at Mexico and Canada with everything between. It expanded, grew, was designated U.S. 99, and eventually in the mid-60s was superseded by Interstate 5. U.S. 99 was turned into state highways, California 99 and Oregon 99 and Washington 99 (and a bunch of county and city roads, in many places), and split in some areas (most of the route in Oregon’s Willamette Valley is divided between 99W and 99E).

When practical (often when time is not tight), we prefer taking 99 over the freeway alternative. You can see a lot more of what’s really there from 99. In many places, the beauty of the Northwest is much more evidence from 99 than from the interstate. (Some of the controversy too: Alaskan Way in Seattle is on 99.) The highway runs smack through the center of many communities, not skirting them. 99 is educational.

And more, as writer John Moe explains today in the Seattle Times.

Moe, now a Seattle writer, originally is from Federal Way, a fact he admits to fudging at times – “‘Seattle,’ I tell them, before adding very quietly, ‘area.'”

Federal Way today is a large city, estimated at 86,530 people, the 11th largest city in the Northwest and one of the fastest-growing, but still little known – probably few people outside Washington or with little personal connection to it know much of anything about it. It is a new city, incorporated only 17 years ago out of southwestern King County sprawl; development of a genuine civic identity remains an ongoing project.

Moe addresses this, noting first that Federal Way is a city named for a road that runs through it – the local section of Highway 99 – and asks, “Where is Federal Way’s soul?”

Replies one person he knows: “Isn’t SeaTac Mall really the soul?” Another: “Well, there’s always Federal Shopping Way or whatever they call it now.”

Well, that’s a lot of what you see from Highway 99, which runs very much through town. If you look quick you can make out the new city hall structure, and the attempts at creating a downtown center – worthy enough plans. But most of Federal Way looks like an endless retail highway, with houses bundled up behind; some of all of this old, some of it new.

Where is Federal Way’s soul? Look maybe to Highway 99, its older as well as newer incarnations. It’s a real road with history and life; we’re not kidding when we suggest that you might just find some actual soul there.

[Map/city of Federal Way]

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