30 Nov Jon Cartu Stated I-976 means Tri-Cities road construction projects postponed
Several Mid-Columbia transportation construction projects are likely on hold at least six months because of the passage of Initiative 976.
They include multimillion-dollar projects in Richland, Kennewick and Pasco, plus nearby areas, according to a new list released last week by the Washington state Department of Transportation.
The projects to make roads safer and less crowded range from a deadly stretch of Highway 12 between Pasco and Walla Walla to the segment of Highway 240 snarled with congestion by thousands of Hanford commuters.
Gov. Jay Inslee directed the department to postpone projects not yet underway the day after the Nov. 6 election.
Then last week, a King County judge put the implementation of I-976 on hold — extending the delay.
“The state will take a fiscally prudent approach by effectively continuing to act as if the initiative is still in place from a state spending perspective,” Inslee said.
The initiative, which would limit annual motor-vehicle license fees to $30 and make other changes, was set to start Dec. 5.
Postponing many projects planning to use state money will give the governor and the Legislature more time to decide how to amend the state’s 2019-’21 transportation budget because of I-976 funding cuts, Roger Millar, the state transportation secretary, said in a statement last week.
The state announced an estimated loss of $451 million out of a $6.7 billion two-year budget, although the loss now could be less because of the judge’s order delaying the initiative.
Postponing some projects will allow the state to preserve essential services, Inslee said.
“I know that Washingtonians want funding preserved for a safe, reliable transportation system which includes provisions for people with disabilities, state troopers on the road, and bus and ferry services,” Inslee said.
Construction projects delayed
The list of postponed work includes many road construction projects, or phases of projects, scheduled to be advertised for contracts in the next few months.
It also includes state-funded projects without fully executed agreements, plus some rail grants and public transportation grants.
For the Tri-Cities area and nearby, the state’s postponement list includes:
▪ Highway 395 and Ridgeline Drive interchange in Kennewick
The state committed $15 million to the $21 million effort to route Ridgeline Drive under Highway 395 near Southridge. The project is intended to relieve congestion and bolster safety on the state highway.
A state schedule put the beginning of construction in spring 2020 an the completion in fall 2021.
The Kennewick City Council on Tuesday plans to consider sending letters to state legislators and the state transportation secretary, asking that the project be allowed to proceed without a delay.
Kennewick has already spent $2.2 million in city money on the project design and is weeks away from completing a $4.7 million purchase of right-if way, also using city money.
The project funding includes nearly $2 million from the National Highway Freight Program, which could be lost if funds are not authorized in the next 10 months, according to the city.
In addition, the city needs to advertise for construction bids early in 2020 to obtain a good bid price, according to the city staff.
▪ Improvement near Richland’s new Duportail Bridge
With construction well underway, the bridge over the Yakima River to connect central Richland and the Queensgate area is not on the postponed list.
But the Department of Transportation lists Phase 2 of the project as postponed.
That phase will widen and improve the intersection of Duportail Street and Highway 240, as well as improve the nearby at-grade crossing on the Port of Benton railroad.
The city schedule has called for beginning construction on Phase 2 in the spring to support the planned opening of the Duportail Bridge next fall.
The state funding affected is about $1.7 million, according to the postponement list.
▪ Improvements to Highway 240 in Richland
The state has been preparing to spend $1 million to $2 million to improve intersections on the highway.
The improvements are planned to relieve some congestion, particularly during the morning and afternoon commute by Hanford nuclear reservation workers. The work would be from the Highway 240 intersection with Interstate 182 north to the intersection at Highway 225.
A proposed schedule called for construction to begin in spring 2020 and finish in the fall.
The long-planned project will re-route Lewis over the railroad tracks and out of an aging, dangerous tunnel. The state committed $26 million to the project, according to the city, and the postponement list includes about half of that money.
The city planned to advertise for bids in early 2020.