Richland planners weigh Rachel Road extension

Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldMay 28, 2014 

May 29, 2014 - Almost 75 people attended a "Hands Across the Creek" rally Sunday to show their concern about possible construction in the Amon Creek Natural Preserve in south Richland. They're standing opposite Rachel Road, which Richland is proposing to extend to connect with Steptoe Street. If the road is extended, it would go through the area where the group is standing.

COURTESY OF TAPTEAL GREENWAY

UPDATE: Richland's six-year Transportation Improvement Program will head to the city council with the planning commission's recommendation — with the request that the council prioritize a study of the controversial Rachel Road extension that brings in stakeholders and looks at options, including not building the road at all. The commission also wants no work done on the road until the study is complete.

ORIGINAL POST: About two dozen community members urged the Richland Planning Commission on Wednesday night to drop the extension of Rachel Road from the city's six-year Transportation Improvement Program.

They said the road would irreparably harm the Amon Creek Natural Preserve — a theme that has dominated public comment during several recent city meetings. The extension would cross the preserve.

The planning commission, charged with making a recommendation on the transportation program, or TIP, to the city council, still was deliberating as the Herald went to press.

The 80-plus-acre Amon preserve is in south Richland, between Leslie Road and the proposed Clearwater Creek subdivision. Steptoe Street is on the other side of the subdivision, which could be approved next week.

City officials for years have identified a collector road between Leslie and Steptoe as an eventual need to accommodate increasing traffic in the growing area, which doesn't have many east-west connections.

The future road has gained more attention in recent months as the Clearwater Creek proposal worked its way through city government. The city is requiring right of way in the subdivision for the road.

City staffers have noted the exact route of the road hasn't been determined yet, with more examination, deliberation and input needed. The city council during a workshop earlier this week appeared interested in a study focusing on the connection between Leslie and the subdivision — the stretch that would cross the preserve.

A budget item is expected to come back to the council soon. Next week, the council will consider finalizing some zoning changes to make way for Clearwater Creek and also vote on the subdivision's preliminary plat.

The council has the final say on the TIP and is expected to discuss the transportation program next month.

The subdivision is to have 320 residential lots, 32 acres of open space and about 14 acres for a school.

Almost all the speakers at Wednesday night's meeting, which drew about 50 people, opposed the Rachel extension.

"When it comes to the TIP, we hear a lot about connectivity. I urge all of you to think of connectivity in a broader sense than simply getting from Point A to B a few minutes faster," said Karen Sowers of the nonprofit Tapteal Greenway, which led creation of the preserve. "Placing a road through the heart of this unique combination of ecosystems would severely disrupt and discontinue the connectivity of habitat."

A few people spoke in favor, including representatives from the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities.

Kennewick School District Superintendent Dave Bond said the extension's inclusion in the TIP has been a key factor in the district considering land within Clearwater Creek for a future elementary school. The proposed subdivision is in a part of Richland that falls within the Kennewick School District.

The road extension would be needed to accommodate school traffic and create enough access to the property, and the district would likely look elsewhere for a future elementary site if the extension is dropped, Bond said.

"We urge the commission to engage city staff in identifying the best location for the road and to work with all interested parties to find a way to construct an access road from Leslie near Rachel to the Clearwater Creek neighborhood, while mitigating any significant damage to the Amon preserve," Bond told the commission. "The (district) believes that with good planning, the needs of all parties can be met."

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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