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Local leaders ask for funding help from state transportation officials

Grandview Mayor Norm Childress, Sunnyside City Manager Don Day and Sunnyside Mayor Jim Restucci (L-R) talk to the Washington State Transportation Commission members about transportation issues in small communities.

Photo by Jennie McGhan
Grandview Mayor Norm Childress, Sunnyside City Manager Don Day and Sunnyside Mayor Jim Restucci (L-R) talk to the Washington State Transportation Commission members about transportation issues in small communities.

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The Washington State Transportation Commission during its meeting in Sunnyside looks at documentation provided to them. The commission consists of (L-R) Rita Brogan of King County, Jerry Litt of Douglas County, Executive Director Reema Griffith, Anne Haley of Walla Walla County, Joe Tortorelli of Spokane County, Roy Jennings of Clark County and Deputy Director Paul Parker.

Overwhelmingly, mayors and other city leaders yesterday asked the Washington State Transportation Commission to lend its support in securing funding for the preservation and maintenance of residential streets.

City leaders from Grandview to Selah yesterday had a chance to talk with the commission at its meeting in Sunnyside.

Although voters in Grandview approved a transportation benefit district, Mayor Norm Childress told the commission the city uses those funds as leverage to secure grants and loans via state and federal transportation programs.

It has bothered him the state’s transportation funding is usually tied to safety and can only be secured for improvements to arterials and corridors, Childress told the commission.

Sunnyside Mayor Jim Restucci said the legislature promised to provide cities with funding for infrastructure after the passage of I-695 in 1999, but has since “…passed the buck.”

The legislature, he said, expects municipal governments to raise taxes, but “…local options cannot support large capital projects.

“Raising taxes is difficult,” he said.

Restucci continued, stating the citizens of Sunnyside are also not in favor of a transportation benefit district like Grandview has. Residents in that community pay an additional $20 fee each year they renew their vehicle licenses.

Sunnyside City Manager Don Day also spoke to the commission, stating, “We have low income, low property values and need streets comparable to neighborhoods with $1 million homes.”

Relaxing the rules for transportation funding, Day said, would help cities to work on roadways “…that haven’t been touched in years.”

But, it’s not just the cities that are struggling to fund projects that involve roadways not considered arterials and corridors.

Yakima County, too, has an aging roadway system, according to County Engineer Gary Ekstedt.

Many of the roadways in the county were established between 1890 and 1920, he said.

The roads, said Ekstedt, were made to accommodate horses and wagons...not 105-ton milk trucks and fruit trucks.

Many of the roadways in Yakima County, he told the transportation commissioners, have not been improved much. The county has added to them, but has not restructured or rebuilt them.

Also of concern to the county, Ekstedt said, are the number of bridges needing repairs and replacement because they were built in the 1940s or before.

The Mabton bridge was a topic of concern brought forth by Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside).

The legislature, he said, recently approved a transportation package that included $12 million earmarked for the bridge, but that funding will not replace the bridge.

Honeyford asked the commission to use its influence with the Washington State Department of Transportation to secure funding for the replacement of the Mabton bridge.

The commission, he said, had an opportunity to see the bridge the day prior to yesterday’s meeting..

“It needs to be replaced,” said Honeyford.

Speaking to the commission about the Washington State Department of Transportation’s planned projects was Troy Suing, assistant regional administrator for the south-central region.

The DOT administrator said the $12 million Mabton bridge upgrade will include strengthening the span across the Yakima River. The repairs will allow legal loads to travel the bridge again.

New girders and a new deck will be constructed on the southern portion of the bridge, he said.

Suing said the repairs will not address issues related to the width of the bridge, but will allow large truck traffic to travel SR-241 again.

Another project in the Lower Yakima Valley the WSDOT has planned is a reconfiguration of the railroad crossing at SR-223 and South Track Road west of Granger.

The railroad crossing, said Suing, is a concern because motorists ignore crossing guards. As a result the construction of a full grade-separated crossing is planned for 2016.

Wednesday’s Washington State Transportation Commission meeting at the Sunnyside Law and Justice Center lasted throughout the day.

Representatives from regional organizations like the Yakima Valley Conference of Governments spoke to the commission in the afternoon. Also speaking to the commission were representatives from tourism groups, including John Cooper of Yakima Valley Tourism.

The commission’s next meeting in the region will be held in Kennewick in September 2016.

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