Fedsgrant $500,000 to city for wall treatment

Published on Thu, May 3, 2007 by ara Nelson

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Feds grant $500,000 to city for wall treatment

By Tara Nelson

The plain gray cement walls lining Blaine’s Pacific Highway truck crossing could receive a facelift after state lawmakers granted an emergency $500,000 toward the highway’s reconstruction project last week.

In their regular meeting last Monday, members of the Blaine City Council announced their success in urging state lawmakers to add another $500,000 from the Washington state department of transportation’s (WSDOT) surface transportation program (STP) enhancement funds to help add visual relief to the cement sound walls currently lining the inner lanes of the truck route.

“So instead of just being plain, butt-ugly concrete we now have some options to do something a little more interesting,” said Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic. “It’s an excellent outcome.”

The move comes after WSDOT officials were forced to cutback expenses for aesthetic treatments such as texture or artwork after a sudden increase in construction material costs and gasoline prices in 2005.

“Back when we were trying to get this advertised to contractors it was the same time that construction materials prices were starting to skyrocket, and that really hurt our project because we had estimated it would cost a certain amount,” WSDOT spokesperson Dustin Terpening said. “Their bids came back several million higher than what we had to build the project and we had to figure out ways to trim the project to get it started.”

Several Blaine City Council members, however, objected to the cutbacks, noting the importance of a making the Pacific Highway port of entry into the United States visually-appealing.

“It was not what we were expecting,” said councilmember Bonnie Onyon, who sent last-minute emails to state representatives Kelli Linville, Doug Ericksen and Dale Brandland urging them to help find additional funding. “I was really concerned about the impression that it gives visitors coming through. We get a lot of traffic – a lot of international traffic, at that – and we were expecting something much more attractive more appropriate to a major port of entry into the state and country.”

Councilmember Jason Overstreet, who commutes regularly as a part-time firefighter for the city of Seattle, asked WSDOT officials why Blaine couldn’t get wall treatment comparable to the trees or clouds used on walls in Bellingham or Everett.

“It’s unbelievable that in Everett, they have colored walls and colored textured walls underneath an overpass ... there are leaf patterns, there are trees,” Overstreet said. “This is the fourth busiest port of entry in the country and the fact that it gets flat, untreated walls is unbelievable.”

Terpening said because the project is nearly halfway to its scheduled completion, department engineers are working quickly to realize a design scheme that can be applied late in the process
He added that because of high construction costs, $500,000 would likely only cover the interior retaining walls but not the outside walls, which will eventually be covered with Boston ivy, a deciduous species that is more manageable than other types of ivy.

Clouds or trees such as those displayed on newly constructed sound walls lining I-5 in Bellingham would also be unlikely, he said.

“It’s not going to go very far,” he said. “The walls in Bellingham look very nice but they’re very expensive, I wouldn’t get your hopes up for trees or clouds or anything. At most, it’s going to be a smoothed wall with a fractured finished to add texture to the concrete.”

In the meantime, Onyon said that she was impressed that area representatives came through with funding so quickly and so late in the legislative session.

“We thought we’d give this late effort and it came through which is just pretty amazing,” she said. “As an entryway to the United States, I think we deserve better, especially when you think about the traffic this area gets.”

The reconstruction project will build a new overpass at D Street, new retaining walls, lower the highway, and relocate the truck lane.

Terpening said the project is scheduled for completion by fall of 2008.