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Officials stress need for new road projects

Problems with Washington’s roads need to be addressed before they get worse, according to a report released Tuesday.

And officials who spoke at a news conference in Richland agreed that the best way to start is with the proposed $15 billion transportation package, which includes an 11.7 cents per gallon gasoline tax increase. The package has been approved by the state Senate and is before the House.

Thirty-four percent of the state’s urban roads and 22 percent of the state’s rural roads are in poor condition, according to a report from Washington, D.C., transportation policy group The Road Improvement Program, or TRIP. And there isn’t enough money to fix them.

The state Department of Transportation needs $2.8 billion for road pavement repair over the next decade, but only $1 billion will be available with existing funding, according to the report.

Ten percent of state-owned roads are in need of resurfacing or reconstruction, with the number expected to grow to 41 percent by 2025 at the current pace, the report said. Driving on rough roads costs drivers $2.9 billion annually in Washington, or $551 per driver.

“The state is facing, increasingly, an infrastructure deficit, as the state struggles to maintain its key roads and bridges,” said Rocky Moretti, TRIP’s director of policy and research, who has been traveling the country discussing the need for road improvements in various states. “And local governments also face the challenge of maintaining that system and keeping that system safe and making sure that it’s efficient to move freight and people to support economic growth and the high quality of life here in Washington.”

The report highlights one project in Benton and Franklin counties — the Red Mountain interchange near West Richland and Benton City — basing the information on the state’s priority list. The project would add a roundabout and ramps at Interstate 82 interchanges.

The $28 million interchange could bring $900 million in economic stimulus to an already-popular wine area in its first 20 years, said Troy Berglund of the Tri-Cities Legislative Council.

“I can tell you from West Richland’s perspective that a number of private developers are very interested, but they find out about the lack of access and it’s a deal killer,” he said.

Officials also emphasized the need for three other area projects now in the state Senate and House’s transportation package.

The $21 million Highway 395 interchange with Ridgeline Drive in Kennewick would be responsible for 5,500 jobs in the Southridge area, with 1,100 of those hospital related, Berglund said.

“It’s definitely a project that’s going to open up access to an area that’s undesirable in terms of access right now,” he said.

A new $26 million Lewis Street overpass over the BNSF Railway tracks, connecting east Pasco to downtown, would create 900 new jobs, Berglund said. It would also improve safety and security on the crucial rail line.

The $38 million Duportail Street bridge would help create $310 million in private investments in the growing Queensgate area and downtown within 10 years, he said. It would also add nearly $200 million in sales and property tax revenue within 20 years.

The need for the Duportail bridge will only increase because an orchard dividing Queensgate from West Richland is expected to be developed for residential and retail in the coming years, said Richland City Councilman Brad Anderson.

“It doesn’t just tie in here, it ties in all of West Richland,” he said. “That bridge will be used from day 1.”

The figures Berglund used came from various studies commissioned by area cities and civic groups, he said. Berglund felt positive about the bridge remaining on the project list and an agreement being passed.

“We’re optimistic that, when they get a package done, it will include all the projects,” he said.

TRIP is supported by various transportation-related groups.

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