By Stefanie Donahue
The wheels are finally turning on Blaine’s long-awaited exit 274 interchange project thanks to the state senate, which approved an extensive transportation package last week.
Still awaiting final signature from Governor Jay Inslee, the bill was approved on April 21 and allocates millions of dollars of transportation project funding to agencies throughout the state. Blaine’s exit 274 interchange project was allotted $12,100,000 to begin the first phase.
“The public benefits for this project will be substantial for economic development and improving freight mobility,” said district 42 representative Luanne Van Werven (R-Lynden). “Blaine has so much to offer in the way of local shops and a beautiful waterfront and a southbound off ramp will provide access for thousands of travelers to stop and visit Blaine.”
After the senate vote, District 42 representative Vincent Buys (R-Lynden) sounded pleased with the outcome. “It’s been something we’ve been fighting for the last couple years,” he said. “I look forward to seeing the project hit the ground.”
The state aims to add a new southbound off-ramp on Interstate 5 at Exit 274 onto Peace Portal Drive. Improvements also include the construction of a direct northbound connection to the industrial area from the existing northbound off ramp; the route will be reconfigured to connect to Odell Street. Currently, exit 276 is the first southbound exit from the border and is 6 miles away from the next available off-ramp. The new exit will improve access to Blaine.
“This project is critical to economic development in south Blaine by providing access to and from south-bound I-5; without it, no opportunity exists to stop and visit Blaine,” read the city’s initial project funding request.
The project’s genesis dates back to 2009 when the city completed an Interchange Justification Report to study interstate access points. In 2016, the project yielded a $45 million price tag and had yet to receive state funding. Despite getting close in the last legislative session, state senator Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) fronted a last-minute switch and redirected funding to projects in Ferndale and Lynden. The move left several city officials and residents disappointed.
This time around, the city submitted a funding request that fell at one-third to half the cost of the original proposal. Instead of proposing to construct several new bridges, the city is now aiming its focus at earthwork-based construction by means of excavation and drilling, for example.
“Blaine city leaders met with the 42nd district delegation numerous times and proposed a less expensive alternative which increased the chances of passage,” Van Werven said. “Being a member of the house transportation committee gave me an additional opportunity to advocate for this vital project.”
Moving forward, city manager Dave Wilbrecht said the funding will be used, in part, to update the 2009 Interchange Justification Report to ensure the low-cost options outlined in this year’s funding request are feasible. Three alternatives have been proposed for the project since 2009.
“From a business point of view, we want people to stop and shop here,” he said. “This is a basic thing.”