Mid-Columbia officials crafting stimulus wish lists

By Joe Chapman, Herald staff writer December 15, 2008 

Good boys and girls aren't the only ones compiling their wish lists this holiday season.

Public works officials for cities, counties and the state are assembling lists of construction projects they hope will get funded through a federal economic stimulus package.

"It's kind of like Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving," Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield said. "You've got to get there early. ... It doesn't guarantee anything, but it improves your chances."

An economic stimulus package for public works projects hasn't been officially proposed yet, but it's expected that projects would be favored that create jobs and could be started within six months of a bill being signed in late January.

"It is a great deal for the local community, because most of our contractors that do a lot of these projects are local," said Bruce Beauchene, utility services manager for Kennewick. "And they hire people and then buy materials locally, and it definitely spurs on the economy locally."

The prospective package has been discussed between Congress and President-elect Barack Obama and between Obama and the National Governors Association, and word has reached local jurisdictions through lobbyists and national and state associations of cities and counties.

Officials are preparing their lists now to submit for inclusion on state and national composite lists that can be considered as soon as a stimulus package is approved.

In Benton and Franklin counties and the Tri-Cities, officials are selecting projects that already are in their capital projects plans. Without stimulus money, the projects still would get done, but would take longer to do.

Franklin County

A stimulus package could be the funding answer Franklin County officials have been looking for to reroute Road 170, which was hit by a landslide in May 2006.

The county has spent the 2 1/2 years since the landslide doing preliminary work -- designing the project, holding public meetings, buying right of way, even moving a canal to make way.

The construction could start almost immediately except the county needs about $3.6 million to do it and has been looking to Olympia and Washington, D.C., for help -- so far to no avail.

An economic stimulus package could change that.

"If we can just get that one, we would feel we accomplished something," said Tim Fife, county public works director.

Other projects the county plans to submit include upgrading Dent Road from the future extension of Road 100 to Taylor Flats Road and upgrading Glade North Road from Selph Landing Road to Sagemoor Road.

Pasco

Pasco plans to request $1.3 million to extend about 6,000 feet of rail line in the Heritage Industrial Center. A switch on BNSF Railway's line is already paid for and will be installed in the spring, but the extension would connect the switch to the industrial center.

"That opens up about 600 acres of industrial land for development and possible rail service development," Crutchfield said.

The project would be an investment in an area that could support new jobs in distribution and other industries, he said.

The city also will submit plans to lower a portion of levy along the Columbia River, to extend Commercial Avenue from Kartchner Street to Foster Wells Road, to build Powerline Road between Roads 68 and 100, and to build a new public safety building.

Kennewick

Kennewick's list will include a $5 million project to extend Steptoe Street south to Center Parkway.

"It would complete a portion of a primary transportation corridor," Beauchene said.

Other Kennewick projects would be to expand Southridge Athletic Complex by two ball fields, allowing state tournaments to be played there; upgrading portions of Fourth and Seventh avenues from county road standards to city standards; installing two new water reservoirs; and upgrading the wastewater treatment plant.

Richland

At the top of Richland's list is a project to develop First Avenue to city standards from Stevens Drive to George Washington Way. Upgrading the street is part of a master plan to further develop the research district.

"We're trying to bring more research firms in and take advantage of the national lab and the university facilities that are already there," said Bill King, deputy city manager.

Benton County

Public Works Director Ross Dunfee is expected to present a list of projects under consideration to the Benton County Commission when it meets today.

The list will include designing and building a proposed $24 million Interstate 82 interchange to serve West Richland and Red Mountain and a $3.4 million project to build a new BNSF Railway bridge at Webber Canyon Road.

State DOT

The state also would be eligible for stimulus funding, and the Department of Transportation's regional office in Yakima likely would use any money it received for repaving roads, said Mike Westbay, regional communications manager.

The department has a plan for periodically repaving the roads, but had to put some of them on the back burner in recent years as it prioritized projects paid for by gas tax increases, he said.

Whatever stimulus package ultimately is approved, many of the projects submitted across the state are likely to be left out.

"There's going to be more requests than there is money. Always is," Fife said.

But Crutchfield said the competitiveness of the process would be a good thing, if it meant more worthwhile projects would be selected.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense just to build a bridge to nowhere, so to speak, to use a current example," he said, "but to build a bridge that will result in other long-term benefits."

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