Mixed reviews for new Pasco overpass

September 26, 2013 

Pasco’s plan to try to get funding for a proposed Lewis Street overpass in a statewide transportation package got mixed reviews from the 129 people at a Thursday night forum at Columbia Basin College in Pasco.

Several downtown business owners and community leaders were among the 57 speakers. They asked that the state legislators in attendance consider replacing the underpass below the BNSF railroad tracks that has been in place since 1937. They said the new overpass, coupled with making Lewis and Clark streets a pair of one-way streets, would help revitalize downtown while improving access to the largely Hispanic east side.

“It’s quite the safety issue, not just for pedestrians, but for large vehicles,” said Gilbert Mendoza, owner of Taxes n’ More at Lewis Street and Third Avenue. “It’s always a challenge to get through the underpass, it’s not very well lit.”

But others said that one-way streets have hurt businesses in other cities.

Roger Lenk of west Pasco argued that the overpass isn’t worth the more than $30 million it would cost, not with track crossings on A Street to the south and Interstate 182 to the north. “They are better off putting a concrete abutment to block traffic there and turning it into a skatepark,” he said.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, told the Herald after the meeting that he was impressed by the support for the overpass.

“I think the strong majority of people that spoke supported the project,” said Schoesler, who represents rural Franklin County and the western part of Pasco. “I think the omission of it in the budget that passed the House was one of the many failures in that package.”

After failing to pass a transportation package earlier this year, the legislature may be called into a special session to again deal with the issue. At question is whether to increase gax taxes by around 10 cents a gallon to pay for improvements.

Speakers included Gov. Jay Inslee — who threw support behind the widening of Highway 12 between Pasco and Walla Walla as well as the Red Mountain interchange off Interstate 82 — and the mayors of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.

Discussion was led by Sens. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Tracey Eide, D-Federal Way, co-chairs of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Richland Mayor John Fox asked the legislators, seated on a dais on the stage overlooking the meeting room, to consider using a transportation package to support a Duportail Street bridge over the Yakima River.

“We will step up to do our part ... but the cost of the bridge is beyond our capacity,” Fox said.

Franklin County engineer Matt Rasmussen questioned why his county only gets 60 cents back on every dollar its residents pay in gas taxes.

“Our (county) roads are falling apart, and we have to look at possibly turning some of the roads back to gravel,” he said. A meeting Monday in Wenatchee was attended by a reported 110 people, while one Tuesday in Yakima attracted around 150 people. Earlier forums in the Seattle area drew more than 200 people.

Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, said it was hard to draw conclusions on the feelings of the audience because she didn’t know if all areas of the Tri-Cities were adequately represented.

“It’s great to see so many people come out to speak their minds,” she said.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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