Blaine City Council expressed their support Monday for a $7.8 million roundabout project slated for the I-5 interchange near D Street.
In a 4-3 vote, the council agreed to draft a letter in support of the project to state representative Kelli Linville (D-Whatcom County) with the caveat that state officials work to mitigate impacts to local businesses with regard to parking spaces and adequate signage to warn motorists of the planned closure of D Street under the I-5 overpass.
Linville had requested a letter from the city stating their position after hearing much opposition from land and business owners in the central business district.
Council members Bonnie Onyon, Charlie Hawkins, Harry Robinson and Paul Greenough voted yes. Scott Dodd, Jason Overstreet and John Liebert voted no.
Dodd questioned the necessity of the project and said he had concerns that it would prevent out-of-town drivers from being able to take a good look at Blaine.
“I would prefer someone has to stop at a stoplight and be able to look at our town,” he said. “And I don’t see a frustration at stopping at those lights. Maybe I'm alone on that. I want people to stop and look.”
Overstreet received a loud round of applause when he questioned the need to spend $13 million on a project when he felt a complete interchange at exit 274 was more important.
Project engineer Chris Damitio clarified that the DOT was originally allocated $13.2 million in federal funding to improve the D Street interchange because of increased traffic anticipated as a result of the improved border crossing facility.
After final cost estimates, however, Damitio said the project will cost only about $7.8 million.
The only financial contribution from the city of Blaine would be approximately $70,000 that it chose to spend on lighting upgrades that would make it consistent with urban design guidelines indicated in the Blaine comprehensive plan.
Monday’s decision was made in front of a packed council chambers full of residents and landowners who expressed opposition to the project. Some, such as Seaside Bakery and Cafe owner Silva Gore, said her she was concerned about the impacts of road construction on her already struggling business on Peace Portal Drive.
Gore said her business has already been impacted when Cascade Natural Gas worked for two weeks at the corner of Peace Portal and Marine drives.
“My customers were complaining and some of them never came in, not to mention Olympic visitors that could have been passing through,” she said. “My business is at stake as well as the jobs of my employees.”
Others had concerns about a reduction in the number of parking spaces, ADA accessible sidewalks and large vehicles being able to make their way through the roundabouts.
One audience member pointed to a story in a local newspaper regarding a high number of collisions in a recently constructed roundabout at Cordata Way in Bellingham.
Blaine police chief Mike Haslip responded that, statistically, roundabouts have fewer and less serious collisions than signalized intersections. He said problems at that particular intersection could be a result of demographics as it is located near a community college and a large retirement community. In contrast, the roundabout one block down at Westerley and Kellogg only had four collisions last year, he said.
Meanwhile, Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic defended the project saying that the city is working with DOT to mitigate impacts to local businesses to the best of their ability but that certain impacts can’t be avoided.
Those efforts include shortening the construction schedule, providing financial incentives to the contractor – Interwest Construction, Inc. of Burlington – for finishing the project ahead of schedule and penalties for completing the project late.
He added that the city is currently working with WSDOT to create a diagonal parking plan that would actually increase the number of parking spaces from what is currently available.
Robinson agreed: “My concern has always been with the poor people who are going to suffer. However, I think one has to measure short term against long term. If we look at what we perceive what the entrance to Blaine will look like 10 years from now, I think people will get the feeling you're entering a modern day city.”
Construction of the project is scheduled to begin in March and will last about 50 calendar days.
For more project details, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/I5/blaineinterchange