A December work session saw Sequim city leaders and local legislators once again focusing attention on highway access and safety improvements.
City staff continued to advocate for safety improvements for a portion of U.S. Highway 101 — which includes completing the Simdars Road interchange — in a work session on Dec. 9 with state senator Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim) and state representative Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles).
Steve Tharinger (D-Port Townsend) was unable to attend.
State transportation leaders previously said the project ran out of funds for an eastbound off-ramp in 1999, but new funds weren’t allocated until legislators set $1.29 million for design and environmental work on the project earlier this year.
Sequim Public Works Director David Garlington said city staff met with Department of Transportation leaders about the project but they’ll be waiting to see what happens in January’s short legislative session.
Part of the city’s request includes constructing a frontage road to connect Palo Alto and Happy Valley Roads to the Simdars Road Interchange and eliminating direct connection to the highway.
“Everyone has been at those intersections and knows how frustrating it can be to get onto the highway, or vice versa … and being concerned about being rear-ended,” Garlington said.
City officials hope the state will align timing of corridor improvements with the Department of Transportation’s 2022-2023 plan to replace a culvert for Johnson Creek on U.S. Highway 101 to minimize traffic impacts.
City officials previously said the tentative cost for the corridor project is about $26 million, with $3 million for design and permitting and $23 million for construction.
The chances for funding coming through in 2020, however, could be slim to none.
Chapman, who sits on the House Transportation Committee, said the impact from Initiative 976, which reduces car tabs to $30 and eliminates a 0.3 percent sales tax on vehicle purchases, mostly affects local transit agencies and new transportation projects.
“Without a new funding mechanism, which I don’t see occurring, we’re going to have to rewrite the entire state transportation budget,” he said.
“We’re going to do our best to not have the effects be as draconian as they could be. It means postponing projects.”
That could mean deferring the Sequim corridor project, he said.
“It’s going to be difficult,” Chapman said. “It was going to be easier to get newer funding for the project as soon as we went through the planning process (but) without new revenue that’s going to be more difficult.”
City councilor William Armacost said the city and the North Olympic Legislative Alliance have hired lobbyists for the project to move forward.
Wait and see
Earlier this year, city lobbyist Davor Gjurasic told city councilors he’ll continue advocating for the project in Olympia, but a lot of his work will be “setting things up for the future.”
Gjurasic said he’ll tell state leaders why the corridor project shouldn’t be delayed while readying for the 2021 session and a potentially new transportation revenue package. Sequim city councilors have allocated $37,000 in the 2020 city budget for lobbying for the corridor project.
To better show the project’s impact, city leaders formed a coalition between the city and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and Clallam County.
Water rights and federal funds
Number two on the city’s priorities is the state establishing pilot programs and maintaining grant funding for municipalities to establish water rights and increase stream flows.
Garlington said city staff would like some action to optimize using the city’s reclaimed water more throughout the year.
Van De Wege said legislation might not happen until 2021, but there are recommended changes for cities creating and using reclaimed water.
The third priority for the city includes lessening lengthy administrative requirements for transportation projects.
Garlington said if certain projects don’t exceed a certain amount it’s not worth accepting because of how much work it entails for small towns with small staffs.
“When it comes down to rural counties, no one can do anything with it because the rules are too onerous,” he said.
City officials also seek a “more equitable and accurate methodology for determining wage rates for smaller rural counties,” according to its agenda Legislative Agenda sheet.
“We’ve seen actual wages go up significantly,” City Manager Charlie Bush said.
“Pay on public works projects has been similar to King County and that’s a huge cost burden. We think it’s unfair.”
The city’s final priority asks legislators to limit “unfunded mandates” to cities.
Sequim’s other legislative policies remain largely unchanged from recent years.
Some of the highlights include: The state adequately funding mental health services; provide additional technical resources and assistance for the opioid epidemic; allowing cities below 15,000 people a multifamily tax exemption; grandfather in voted in Transportation Benefit District tax districts; eliminating the super majority requirement for bonds, and change public notice requirements by allowing cities to publish to its website rather than through a newspaper of record.
Veterans and clean energy priorities
Local legislators told city councilors reevaluating the state’s transportation budget will be a priority in their next session.
Van De Wege said they’ve passed a lot of laws in the past two years and “there are a lot of people who have a desire not to do a lot and give it a year to see how it goes.”
Chapman said a priority for him is his House Bill 1829 to allow counties to remove their veterans’ relief funds from their general funds and levy them to the maximum allowed amounts to support local veterans in various capacities, such as with health care.
“It allows counties to increase services without drawing down reserves,” he said.
Additionally, Chapman said he’s hopeful for new clean fuel standards to create jobs, such as in the biodiesel industry, and more funding coming through to create regional training centers for law enforcement.
For more about the city’s legislative priorities and policies, visit www.sequimwa.gov or call 360-683-4139.
Reach Matthew Nash at email@example.com.