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TCH Article - Center Parkway Interchange

A Richland developer is upset with what he describes as an unfulfilled promise by Kennewick and Richland to extend a roadway past his new hotel. Jack Nelson has undertaken a one-man lobbying campaign - calling council members in both cities, business developers, city managers and staff and anyone who will listen - to get Kennewick's Center Parkway extended to Tapteal Drive in Richland. The delay, he's been told, is that negotiations between the cities and several railroads have been derailed. But Nelson said the project has been in the works for several years and at least the past two years since he's owned the property. He said he believes if the roadway was really wanted, it would have been built by now. He said he also believes Kennewick is dragging its feet because it doesn't want to lose potential taxes to a Richland hotel. The road would give hotel customers access to businesses west of the Columbia Center mall. Conversely, the road would ease congestion on Gage Boulevard and allow freer access to shopping in the Tapteal, mall and Gage Boulevard shopping districts. "I'm getting mad," Nelson said. He bought the property from developer Robert Young a couple of years ago and plans to soon open a $5.4 million, 83-room Holiday Inn Express in February. He said he stands to lose customers because of the delays. In fact, Robert Young had to forge ahead this summer with paving the Richland side of the road to ensure the hotel could be opened at all. "I thought (the road) was going to be developed a long time ago," Young said from his home in San Francisco. Kennewick and Richland are cooperating on a $1.8 million project to extend the road with Kennewick taking the lead. Kennewick received a federal Rural Economic Vitality grant to help pay the cost of extending the road. "Mr. Nelson isn't alone in his frustrations," said Bob Hammond, Kennewick's public works director. "We've done everything we could (to this point). We're very motivated to get this done. This is a high priority for our council." Hammond said the project appeared to be on track until the railroads said they would only allow a road to be built that went over the tracks, such as with a bridge. Hammond said the cost for doing such a project is well outside the city's budget and could cost as much as $10 million to $15 million. "We've been trying to talk to (the railroads) about some other alternatives," he said. But before that conversation can take place, a consultant is expected to complete a study on the rail corridor running through the city. The Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Tri-City railroads all operate near Nelson's hotel. Burlington Northern spokesman Gus Melonas said his railroad would be looking into Nelson's complaints. Randy Peterson from Tri-City Railroad said his operation had been involved in conversations in the past. A comment from Union Pacific was unavailable. Another benefit of building the road is that it likely would drive the parking of noisy railcars in the area somewhere else. That is another complaint by Nelson. He believed the issue was resolved six months ago and that the rail cars and refrigeration boxcars would be long gone by now. Hammond said there never was a such a deal. "There's always a risk when you undertake a project like that," said Richland Councilwoman Carol Moser. She said Richland has applied for a $2 million freight mobility grant that may help persuade the railroads to move their rail car interchange somewhere else. Robert Young said it's important for Nelson to keep pressuring the cities and railroads to build the road. Likewise, he believes other business owners and developers should step in with their support because the road is bound to be good for everyone. Moser agreed the road likely is to be a boon for business. She likened it to the similar Steptoe Street and the Tapteal overpass that were built nearby. Hammond doesn't have a timetable for meetings with the railroads or when the road would be completed. But he said: "As we keep working on this there will be an win-win situation for everyone."

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