Despite potential funding gaps for new transportation projects after the passage of Initiative 976, City of Sequim officials plan to keep pushing for Simdars Road improvements.
Sequim city councilors included $37,000 in the 2020 city budget for lobbyist Davor Gjurasic to continue advocating for the project in Olympia.
Charisse Deschenes, assistant city manager, said Gjurasic could advocate for other city priorities too with contingency funds up to $13,000 more.
The roads project includes finishing the Simdars Road eastbound ramp of the bypass, adding landscaping and creating a new frontage road from Happy Valley and Palo Alto Roads to the interchange.
Sequim Public Works Director David Garlington said the tentative cost for the project is about $26 million total — $3 million for design and permitting and $23 million for construction.
“We’ve heard the project is perhaps on the bubble,” he said.
“What we’ll be doing this session is working with city staff and our lobbyist to not take the funding away at minimum. Our strategy is that this is a safety project with a lot of corollary elements to it.”
Earlier this year, state legislators approved $1.29 million for design and environmental work on the project.
State Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles recently told the Peninsula Daily News that future funding for the Simdars project may be on hold after the passing of Initiative 976. In October, state Rep. Jake Fey, a Port Angeles native representing the 27th District and serving as the Joint Transportation Committee (JTC) chair, said Simdars would likely be in the state’s 2021 budget.
Chapman said if the project is rated as a safety project, it will be easier to receive funding.
Gjurasic told city councilors on Nov. 12 that he deemed the 2019 Legislative session a success for Sequim.
“You were one of a handful of projects that received new funding,” he said.
“There was a lot of push back for no new projects but with help of our legislators we were able to receive funding.”
With the 2020 Legislative session set to start Jan. 13, Gjurasic said various Department of Transportation projects will be deferred, some put on hold and others funded.
Gjurasic said he sees a “stop gap” coming this short session where legislators will ask themselves about the tentative projects and if they need to reshuffle it.
“It’s incumbent on us to tell them why they shouldn’t be deferring our project,” he said.
“Your project is going to happen. The question is, how long does it take to occur?”
He said their original game plan is to gear up for the 2021 session when the governor’s office and legislature anticipate a new transportation revenue package.
For the Simdars project, the City of Sequim formed a coalition with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and Clallam County to better show it serves many entities and people, Gjurasic said.
“We did everything we could before, during and after the session to advance the project,” he said.
That included several meetings with state leaders and staff, and hosting a dinner during a legislative tour of potential projects.
“We want to keep momentum going for 2020 and 2021,” Gjurasic said.
“We need to keep our project in front of legislators, thank them and keep educating them about the next steps and funding requests for project.”
I-976 was referred to as the “900-pound gorilla in the room” by Gjurasic at the city council meeting for its potentially large impact on the state.
The Tim Eyman measure requires $30 car tabs while eliminating 0.3 percent sales tax on vehicle purchases while cutting about $2 billion in state revenue and $2.3 billion in local government impacts over six years.
Gjurasic said many cities’ Transportation Benefit Districts (TBD) will be impacted since they charge fees for car tabs, but Sequim receives its TBD funds through a two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax. The TBD tax was renewed last November.
“You might have been the smartest people around (for pursuing the tax),” Gjurasic said.
He said many projects will remain in “a holding a pattern” but he plans to keep “reminding people of the importance of the projects and next steps.”
“I see a lot of work being done setting things up for the future,” Gjurasic said.
Despite looming impacts across the Olympic Peninsula, legislators remain optimistic projects like the $3.6 million earmarked for the U.S. Highway 101 Morse Creek curve safety barrier east of Port Angeles will remain funded.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb with the Peninsula Daily News contributed to this report.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.