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SR-241 upgrades included in state's road improvement plants

Yakima County residents will be watching their gas tax dollars at work on local highways and byways in the state's recently announced 2006-08 road funding package.

In the Lower Valley, for example, a passing lane will be built for the SR-24/SR-241 junction. The lane, funded by the new gas tax at a cost of $3.8 million, will rise up a hill, heading east to Coal Creek Road.

Design work on the passing lane is ongoing now and the project is expected to go to bid by fall 2007.

The Dry Creek bridge on SR-241 will be replaced. The $2 million project is funded through the latest nine cent gas tax increase. Bids for new bridge construction will go out in 2009.

SR-241 will also see safety projects, such as flattening steep slopes and addressing roadside hazards such as trees.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) road improvements for 2006-08, known collectively as the statewide transportation improvement program, are in addition to county or state road projects.

"The state road improvement list is generated by agencies, throughout the state," explained Brian White, Program Manager for WSDOT's south central region. "That way other state entities can see what is planned and maybe create opportunities to partner together on projects."

There are more than 1,600 transportation projects statewide included in the 2006-08 package, costing $4 billion over the three-year period.

The Federal Highways Administration and the Federal Transit Administration must approve the projects before funding can be made available. Approval is expected in January 2006.

Elsewhere in Yakima County, the 40th Avenue exit on SR-12 will be revamped. Costing $2.8 million from the new gas tax, the project will widen the 40th Avenue ramp to accommodate two lanes of traffic onto SR-12.

That project should be done by summer 2007.

One of the state's single biggest projects in the county will be a total replacement of the Valley Mall Interchange, near Union Gap.

"Retail has migrated towards Valley Mall Boulevard and the interchange needs to be totally reconfigured," White explained.

Design work is underway now on the project, which will cost $26 million when it is sent out for bid in fall 2009.

White said the interchange will be re-designed to take into account Rudkin Road, which parallels Valley Mall Boulevard, and eliminate the U-turn motorists are required to take currently.

The project will be funded through a combination of the new gas tax and federal money appropriated by Congressman Doc Hastings.

"There's going to be a lengthy environmental review process and once that's settled there is some right-of-way to be purchased," White noted.

One project expected to wrap up by 2007 is US 97 in the vicinity of Satus Creek. The $2.2 million in improvements will re-align the curve and widen the roadway. It is funded through gas tax dollars previously set aside.

The state's most expensive project in Yakima County is $37 million to reconfigure the US 12/old Naches intersection.

Funded in 2003 through the state legislature's nickel gas tax, the intersection has seen its share of accidents. A traffic light was put there as a temporary fix, but that was 10 years ago, noted White.

Other county projects include improvements to SR-821, the road from Yakima to Ellensburg, along the Yakima River Canyon.

Near Prosser, just inside Yakima County, weather sensors will be imbedded in the roadway to help ice and snow crews determine exact locations where weather treatment is required.

White said the weather sensor project will be funded for $200,000 from money previously set aside.

One of the largest projects statewide is not located in Yakima County, but has a direct bearing on residents here.

"The biggest one for our region is the 1-90 Snoqualmie East project," White said. "It will be expanded to six lanes around the existing snowshed."

The I-90 project has a price tag of $387 million from new gas tax money, but will also include construction to minimize the impacts of avalanches, which routinely stop or stall traffic during the winter months.

Not only does I-90 have one of the highest costs, it is also going to take longer to see the project to completion. White said the near future will be spent addressing environmental impacts from the project and deciding on how to ensure animals will be able to maintain their migration patterns. It won't go out for bid until 2010.

"Snoqualmie Pass may seem a long way from Yakima County, but it links our community to the west and vice versa," White said.

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