Birch Bay road projects given priority in six-year road plan
By Tara Nelson
The Whatcom County six-year transportation improvement program (STIP) was approved 6-1 during the August 5 county council meeting despite a long debate about Lincoln Road.
To the delight of many Birch Bay community members the second, third and fifth priorities on this years STIP are in Birch Bay.
Reconstructing and enhancing Lincoln Road from Shintaffer to Harborview is the second priority, improving the intersection at Birch Bay-Lynden and Blaine roads is the third priority and the fifth priority is the Birch Bay pedestrian facility on Birch Bay Drive from Alderson to Harborview roads.
However, Birch Bay residents that attended the hearing were not all too happy to find out that the Lincoln Road project that has been on the road plan since 1992, and would cost more than $12 million to fully complete, has been cut into two projects, each only receiving $500,000 in funding – and that they are being postponed again until 2010.
“Hey we are grown ups, we understand the fact that there is a budget and you can’t squeeze out something that isn’t there,” said Doralee Booth co-chair of the Birch Bay Steering Committee’s transportation and public safety subcommittee. “What is frustrating to us is, where did the money go?
“My question for them was what happened when the years were good, what happened when Birch Bay was the fastest growing part of the county, when taxes were coming in – what happened to the money that was supposed to be there for this project,” she said.
The public works department is trying to find more funds for the Lincoln Road Project, and hopes to come up with at least $3 million so they can improve the safety of the road by installing six-foot shoulders on either side of the mile-long segment.
Installing shoulders will allow for drivers to not immediately find themselves in a ditch if they go off the road a little, county road engineer Joe Rutan said.
“I drove down Lincoln Road the other night and it was very scary,” council member Barbara Brenner said. “It is narrow and there is a drop off. It was dark and I found myself driving pretty slow – it really worried me.”
Public works director Frank Abart said that they are resubmitting their grant applications for the Lincoln Road project with the new parameters, only installing shoulders rather than trying to complete the original $12 million plan, and hopes that they will receive the funding so the project can be added to the 2009 or 2010 annual budget.
The rest of the projects for Birch Bay are not as hopeful; $5,000 for the Birch Bay-Lynden and Blaine roads intersection, scheduled for 2010; $5,000 for the Birch Bay pedestrian facility, scheduled for 2014; and $750,000 for intersection improvements at Birch Bay-Lynden Road and Portal Way, scheduled for 2011.
The lack of money in the road fund has been, in large part, because of the rising cost of energy, Abart said.
However, he said that world demand for construction material such as steel and iron is another key factor.
“We are at a point where we need to reduce spending on capital improvements,” Abart said. “There are only limited funds to work with.”
The big projects that are scheduled to receive money from the road fund for 2009 in this year’s STIP are: installing a traffic light at East Pole and Hannegan roads, in Lynden; replacing the Hampton Road bridge over Mormon Ditch, outside of Lynden; replacing the Baker Lake Road bridge over Sulphur Creek; and improving the off-road pedestrian and bicycle trail on Haxton Way from Slater Road to Gooseberry Point.
However, STIP is only a program, it is not the budget, Abart said.
“The annual construction plan is really where the beef is, that is where you detail how much money you have and where it is going to be spent,” Abart said. “The six-year program outlines the objectives and guides staff and the resources toward completion of those projects.”
The annual budget that will go to the county council in September or October could be drastically different from the targets and guidelines set forth in the STIP that was passed Tuesday, he said.
“The projects that are actually going to get done are the ones that get put on the annual budget,” Booth said.
“We learned that tonight, we didn’t know that before. We are going to follow that through; we will be at those budget meetings.”