Pullman Public Works Director Mark Workman said that the Washington State Department of Transportation finally will allow the city to cross a bit of “sacred ground.”Nice to see a state agency helping Pullman grow instead of hindering it.
The WSDOT recently completed the draft of a route development study that will let the city of Pullman build a road across a state-owned right of way. Until now, the highly coveted land has been kept undeveloped, with the hope it would eventually become the State Route 276 North Pullman Bypass, linking U.S. Highway 195 to the Pullman-Moscow Highway.
It is unlikely the bypass will ever be built, but Workman said the state’s decision to let the city build an access road across the right of way is progress. It will grant the city some power to develop to the north and not interfere with the proposed bypass project.
“This is big,” Workman said of the WSDOT’s decision. “This will help us.”
The report identified a site — about a mile west of the north Grand Avenue interchange onto State Route 27 — that will allow city infrastructure to cross the right of way to serve northern development.
The city of Pullman is growing in all directions. Development has begun to encroach on the south side of the right of way and has had to awkwardly jump the state-owned land, making development to the north of town difficult, said WSDOT Route Development Engineer Dave Dean.
“Now (growth is) in the process of being split by the right-of-way corridor,” Dean said.
The WSDOT wanted to grant the city “potential for them to actually construct some city arterials.”
Pullman has struggled for years to negotiate with the state to preserve the right of way while also allowing the city to grow. Workman said ideas to side-step the right of way have included building an overpass above the state land, or trading a portion of city land for the bypass area. None of the ideas have been accepted by WSDOT.
“If the right of way hadn’t been there, we would have expanded there,” Workman said. “We’ve gotten real development pressure to expand.”
Workman said the city will not pave a road just because the state has given it the OK. Instead, the road and underground utility lines will be built when and if landowners north of town show an interest in developing their properties. All plans would need to be reviewed and approved by the WSDOT.
The WSDOT also will allow the city to develop an east-to-west road over the right of way should it be needed as the city grows. Bike and pedestrian paths also can be built. Workman said city officials have not yet discussed these options.
Plans for the State Route 276 North Pullman Bypass began in 1969, when WSDOT officials wrote the first planning study. The state bought the right of way in 1972. Many design reports have been developed, but the projected $250 million project lacks funding outlets, Dean said.
Dean said the route development study will be finalized at the end of the month following a meeting with area stakeholders, which include state and city officials as well as local landowners and representatives from Washington State University. The route development study will be revisited every 10 years or so as the city grows.
Workman is right about the bypass. With West Side Democrats dominating the Legislature for the foreseeable future, there is no way we're ever going to see $250 MILLION required for a North Pullman bypass. It took years and years just to scare up a measly $27 million for the Moscow-Pullman Highway expansion. So let's just ignore the bypass and move on.