Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, March 08, 2007

"Fueled by growth: Study will pinpoint preferred route for proposed northwest ring road in Pullman"

This story appeared in today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Sarah Ponnequin doesn't consider Pullman traffic "real" traffic.

New to town from California, Ponnequin is used to spending two hours behind the wheel in a commute that would take 20 minutes or less in Pullman.

"It's so small," she said of downtown Pullman, one of the city's most congested areas. "You listen to one song on the radio and you're through it."

Ponnequin, a Belle Vista Drive resident, doesn't believe there is a need for a proposed ring road that would link North Grand Avenue with Davis Way. The road, a long-term goal for the city, would alleviate some of the traffic in the downtown area and reduce pressure on some roadways.

Pullman is in the contract phase with Taylor Engineering Inc. to complete a "North West Ring Road Conceptual Route Study." The study likely will take about four months and will provide three possible routes to connect Davis Way to the north end of town somewhere between Albion Road and Terre View Drive, Public Works Director Mark Workman said. The study also will evaluate area topography and terrain, environmental and infrastructure impacts, right-of-way requirements and cost estimates.

"I don't see the need," Ponnequin said. "It sounds like an expensive project for a little inconvenience."

Workman said the $34,880 study will prepare the town for future growth. Development is continuing on the north end of town, and the study will provide the city with a clear path so a road eventually can be built. The road would be constructed incrementally as development occurs.

"We just want to identify right of way so that when land does develop we have the right of way," he said. "At some point, Pullman could continue to grow and be developed. We don't want people to look back and think 'Hey, why didn't people put a road out here to avoid all this congestion?' "

Construction isn't expected to begin anytime soon.

"This is a plan for 50 years plus. It is a long-range transportation planning effort," Workman said. "These ring roads are a good alternative to driving through downtown. It's not something that is going to happen overnight. It's going to happen years out. It's possible that many of us that are here and alive now may not be around to see it."

The ring road would provide a more efficient route of travel, especially for those driving from the north end of town toward Colfax. Drivers now must drive through downtown in order to head west to U.S. Highway 195.

Washington State Department of Transportation officials have long discussed constructing a bypass linking U.S. Highway 195 to the Pullman-Moscow Highway. The state secured the right of way in 1972. Many design reports have been developed, but the projected $250 million project lacks funding outlets and has been put on hold indefinitely.

Studies have been done on all other portions of Pullman transportation routes, Workman said. Golden Hills Drive someday will connect Davis Way to Wawawai Road and South Grand Avenue in the southwest quadrant. To the northeast, Terre View Drive now links up with Airport Road, and City Council members have considered the possibility of creating through access from South Grand Avenue east to the Moscow-Pullman Highway.

The northwest is the "last quadrant of Pullman to be looked at in this fashion," Workman said. "Just because of the interest and the activity in that part of Pullman ... it's really appropriate to start thinking about the long-term transportation plan for that area."

Al Leguis, a NW Yates Street resident, isn't bothered by traffic, but he welcomes any new route to avoid downtown and reach his destinations faster.

"You've got to know all the back roads," he said. "That would be good to divert traffic."

Leguis, who has lived in Pullman since 1976, said he has seen the city's traffic problems increase with the population.

"It's congested," he said. "There are a lot of accidents."

Workman said he doesn't know if residents of Pullman's northwest neighborhoods will be consulted once a clear route is established, though he noted the city will consider all opportunities to avoid conflict.

"We let topography be the driving factor in where the road needs to go," he said. "In some cases, where the topography really leads us through developed property, oftentimes in those instances we'll see how (property owners) feel about it. As things progress, and the road is constructed, we're open to tweaking the plans a bit ... as long as we keep in mind that the goal is to get from point A to point B and we don't preclude that."
Pullman congested? Not hardly. As Sarah Ponnequin pointed out, if you have ever lived outside of Whitman County you know that's not the case.

I suppose it's prudent to be doing long-range planning. But $250 million for a Pullman road project? 50 years is incredbibly optimistic.

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