Take our rest stop, please

For Sequim residents fretting over the possibility of a rest area within the city, there’s good news. Clallam County is willing to take it off Sequim’s hands.

The county recently approached Sequim Mayor Laura Dubois with a letter addressed to Kevin Dayton, peninsula regional administrator for the state Department of Transportation. Although drafted by the county, the letter is written from the perspective of the Sequim City Council, expressing support of the state transferring federal Scenic Byway funding for the rest area from the city to the county. The letter proposes that instead of funneling the money — an estimated $4.1 million — toward a rest area at the corner of Spy Glass Lane and Lofgrin Road in Sequim, the money should go toward a rest area at Deer Park, on U.S. Highway 101 west of Sequim.

“The site at Deer Park is better suited to a rest stop as there are existing public-owned properties on both sides of the highway that can be developed for bidirectional support of the traveling public,” the letter reads.

The letter goes on to say that a vehicle overpass across Highway 101 can be built, connecting both sides and providing accessibility for both east and westbound traffic.

This could be an improvement over the proposed Sequim site, which does not provide direct access for eastbound traffic. According to the plans, eastbound traffic would be filed through Sequim Avenue. The issue is one of several concerns for the majority of the city council. In April, the city council sent its own letter to Dayton, listing qualms regarding the project, which included the site’s proximity to residential developments, the effects of large trucks traveling on Sequim’s streets, as well as potential noise, air and light pollution. Dayton has yet to respond to the letter.

Any accessibility problems associated with the Sequim site could be solved with the creation of an interchange at Simdars Road, but according to Dayton during a March 17 presentation, the city can have the interchange or the rest area, but it can’t have both.

“It is not funded in the six-year plan, I’ll tell you that much,” Dayton said. “I’m the lone guy out there with a vision and no budget.”

The county letter goes on to point out that a rest area at Deer Park has been identified as a 2008 priority item by the Peninsula Regional Transportation Planning Organization. According to the county, by redirecting funding away from the proposed Sequim site, there’s a possibility that the Simdars interchange project could take its place on the planning priority list.

“I’m very impressed by it. When I read it, I wouldn’t change a thing and I’m very much in favor of it,” Councilwoman Susan Lorenzen said.

Councilman Paul McHugh, however, was not impressed. Rather than see the proposal as a win-win situation for both the county and city, McHugh saw it as the county trying to weasel money away from Sequim.

“You’ve got to read between the lines and you don’t even have to read that deeply,” McHugh said.

While his fellow council members have expressed apprehension over the project, McHugh always has given the proposed rest area his full support. From McHugh’s perspective, just because the county suggests that Sequim could be placed on the PRTPO’s 2008 priority list, that doesn’t guarantee it’s actually going to happen. In fact, McHugh calls the possibility very unlikely.

“If we continue down this track, we will never see the Simdars Road interchange completed. We need to keep that money here,” McHugh said.

According to McHugh, even if Dayton says the funding for a Simdars interchange isn’t there, by building the rest area in Sequim, it puts more pressure — and gives more leverage to the city — on the state to fund the interchange project.

Dubois, too, said she was undecided regarding the county’s proposal.

“I do see that this is definitely to the county’s advantage,” Dubois, adding that she would not sign any letter until she received correspondence from Dayton.

Representatives of the county said they will move forward with their plan with or without Sequim’s support.

The DOT selected the Sequim site because it met a variety of needs, including water and sewer hookup. Construction on the project is set to begin in January 2009 and it should be completed by the end of 2009.

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