Newhighway interchanges to change face of Blaine

Published on Thu, Apr 1, 2004 by Meg Olson

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New highway interchanges to change face of Blaine

By Meg Olson

A first look at options for changing how residents and visitors get on and off the freeway includes solutions to trains holding up traffic at Bell Road and better penetration into the downtown business core.
“These are the alternatives looking the best right now,” said Blaine public works director Steve Banham of a handful of rough new designs for exits 274 and 276 that will be discussed at an April 19 city council work session at Blaine city hall.

One of the triggers for the access study was the plan by the federal government to expand the Peace Arch border inspection facility which ran up against community sentiment that Peace Arch state park should not be encroached upon, leaving a southward expansion the only feasible alternative. The city had already received funding through the International Mobility and Trade Corridor project for an access study to look at expanding the 274 interchange. “It’s just a partial and it doesn’t work well,” Banham said. The access report looked at both interchanges but further environmental reviews, design and construction will proceed separately.

Options for interchange 276 closest to the border include feeding freeway traffic on and off near H and Harrison streets, and keeping the interchange between D Street and Peace Portal Drive, just moving it further away from the port of entry. Banham said he favored the downtown option, which kept the traffic near businesses and gas stations and far from schools. “You’d have an interchange dumping into a residential area,” he said. “It’s flying in the face of zoning.” He added that option would mean 6th Street would need to be blocked off at H Street and Harrison Avenue would end in a cul-de-sac in front of the post office. “I’m not crazy about that,” Banham said.

The option Banham prefers has the northbound on and off ramps running behind the USA gas station and into D Street, while southbound ramps line replace F Street west of the freeway and end on Peace Portal Drive.

“Right now this is the best but it has some problems,” Banham said. “What I like is, it backs away from the port of entry and gives you some room.” He added the option also gave better exposure to downtown gas stations and businesses and eliminated the tangle of streets converging under the D Street overpass. A potential problem for the design is that it runs close to the border between highway commercial and residential zones near the intersection of E and Fourth streets.

Banham said the greatest positive spinoff of redesigning the 274 interchange will be a bridge that takes traffic over the railroad tracks at Portal Way and Bell Road.

“The good news is that separation from the tracks,” he said. Where the on and off ramps would go remains a difficulty. The proposed redesign would add a southbound off-ramp and a northbound onramp, where traffic can now only enter the freeway southbound and exit northbound. Northbound ramps would end and begin at Odell Road, creating some access problems for homes down towards Dakota Creek on that side of the freeway. They are also looking at several options on the freeway itself to separate truck traffic bound for exit 275 from other traffic.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Banham said. He described the current study as the first step, to be followed by possibly lengthy environmental review and public comment periods which would likely lead to many design revisions.
The access study will be discussed April 19 at the city hall on H Street starting at 6 p.m.