Funding for Simdars Road improvements will likely be included in the 2021 budget, the head of the state Joint Legislative Transportation Committee said recently.
State Rep. Jake Fey was in Port Angeles in early October on a two-day trip to Clallam and Jefferson counties with other committee members.
During an interview with fellow committee member state Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles, the Tacoma Democrat said he is confident funding for the entire project will be included in the 2021-23 budget.
“I would think it would probably be both design and construction,” said Fey, a Port Angeles native.
Fey said funding is needed for far more expensive transportation projects such as $3.5 billion in fish passage mitigation, culvert-related projects; a new interchange on state Highway 520; and a new Interstate 5 bridge between Vancouver and Portland, Ore.
“When we do that, we will add additional projects,” Fey said. “We’ll scour what needed projects there are that need to be done, and this, I’m sure, will be part of it.”
The state Legislature earlier this year approved $1.29 million for design and environmental work between Sequim and Blyn on Simdars, Happy Valley and Palo Alto roads, and for landscaping needs.
Chapman said the funding will produce cost estimates for the project to improve sight distances at the harrowingly tight Palo Alto-U.S. Highway 101 intersection and on Happy Valley Road, a connection between Happy Valley Road and Highway 101, and an interchange at Simdars Road and Highway 101 at the east end of the Highway 101 bypass.
Chapman said he expects all those projects, known collectively as the Sequim corridor project, to be funded in the 2021-2023 biennial budget, and that Fey wants the same thing.
“He understands the importance of the project,” Chapman said on Oct. 7.
Sequim Public Works Director David Garlington presented the city’s argument for funding during the transportation committee’s visit when about 45 committee members, staff and other local, state and legislative officials visited the North Olympic Peninsula on Oct. 2 and 3.
Garlington read from a handout on oct. 3 evening before the group had dinner at Dupuis Restaurant east of Port Angeles.
“The purpose and benefits of this project are safety and economic development, that, if done in a certain fashion, could be achieved with considerable cost savings to the state,” Garlington said in the flier.
The interchange would provide an eastbound exit on Highway 101 at Simdars, which already has a westbound exit.
Garlington, who worked on the bypass project as a DOT design and construction engineer two decades ago, said the original design called for the bypass to stretch farther east than it eventually did although DOT purchased the right-of-way.
Garlington said $1.29 million was to be spent to begin design of a frontage road connecting the two city road intersections with a fully built Simdars Road interchange.
He said he respected the value of a “needs study” but that the need for the project was established a generation ago.
“You don’t buy right of way first and then evaluate the need for a project,” Garlington said.
He said $1.7 million is needed for design and permitting, noting that Clallam County has approved $350,000 in city Surface Transportation Program funds from DOT.
The city of Sequim will pass those funds and a $55,000 city match through to DOT for construction and design, he said.
Construction of the frontage road and the interchange is estimated at an additional $23.4 million, Garlington said.
“The real takeaway here is the need to improve safety on the highway mainline as well as the city/county road connectors and to eliminate the economic bottleneck created by a half-built interchange,” Garlington said.
Purchasing right of way “does not drive a decision to build something on it,” DOT Olympic Region Administrator John Wynands said in an interview Thursday during the transportation committee’s visit.
“Our next step is to sit down with the city and say, which problem are we trying to solve here, and what is the right solution at frontage road,” Wynands said.
“We’ll get together in the next month.”