State keeps pushing plans for Benton City roundabout

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 15, 2012 

BENTON CITY — A single-lane roundabout someday will replace the confusing and sometimes congested intersection at highways 224 and 225 in Benton City.

The state Department of Transportation is continuing to work on getting the project ready for construction, although the state still doesn't have money to finish the design or build the roundabout.

The roundabout, the first phase of the Red Mountain project, is going through the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.

The public comment period for SEPA ends Wednesday. Both are needed for the project to use federal money.

The state Department of Transportation plans to purchase the property needed to build the roundabout this spring, said Troy Suing, WSDOT's assistant regional administrator for planning and programming. The property needed includes a piece to the west of the current intersection.

The roundabout will combine highways 224 and 225 and the on- and off-ramps for westbound I-82, Suing said. It also will have a lane that will allow trucks and other cars on the I-82 off-ramp to bypass the roundabout if heading onto Highway 224.

The roundabout will mean that Cornerstone Flower and Nursery and Desert Food Mart can stay in their current locations.

But the roundabout will require moving the park and ride, since some of its space will be taken by the roundabout, Suing said.

Where the park and ride will move to has not yet been decided, he said.

Buying the right of way was about $375,000 of the $578,000 included in the state's 2011-13 budget for the Red Mountain project, Suing said.

The rest is paying for a preliminary traffic analysis for the second phase of the project, which would add an interchange on Interstate 82 near milepost 100 and create the first direct access to West Richland, he said. The analysis should be completed by mid- to late spring.

The roundabout is expected to cost $4.5 million, while the interchange near the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area could cost about $25.5 million, according to WSDOT.

The roundabout is expected to open new areas to economic growth, according to WSDOT.

And about $900 million of economic stimulus is expected to occur near the interchange in the first 20 years after the interchange is finished, according to an economic-impact analysis.

Leo Bowman, Benton County commission chairman, said the county has been supportive of the Red Mountain project since it began about six years ago.

"It's been a long time coming," he said. And it will take more time because no funding is available to finish the project.

He added that the community wants to have the congestion of the intersection out of the way.

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