OLYMPIA -- Lawmakers have pledged to help make the Red Mountain interchange project shovel-ready with $1 million in state money starting in 2013.
Ruth Swain, economic development director for the city of West Richland, told the Herald that the $25.5 million interchange on Interstate 82 by West Richland will bring growth to the Tri-Cities.
"We see a new interchange at Red Mountain as a very important opportunity to build economic strength with new jobs, new visitors and an increase in the quality of life for our local people," she said.
The interchange is one of many projects across the state receiving a portion of the $32.5 million for early design, preliminary engineering and right of way investment from 2013-15. Lawmakers authorized the money last week through the 2012 supplemental transportation budget.
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The interchange project would directly and indirectly create 1,900 construction jobs and 2,400 permanent jobs through 20 years, according to an economic impact analysis by Benton City, West Richland and Benton County.
Swain said the permanent jobs would come from commercial and industrial businesses, such as restaurants, retail stores and centers for manufacturing and distribution.
However, the Red Mountain region's showcase industries will continue to be wine and tourism, she said.
"Having the wine industry is a local job benefit. It also benefits visitors, who come from around the state to spend money here," she said.
But first, the interchange itself has to be built.
The $1 million will go toward the project's planning and pre-design stage, which includes a federal environmental assessment and traffic analysis, said Troy Suing, an assistant regional administrator at the state Department of Transportation's southcentral project office.
The traffic analysis alone could take more than a year to complete, Suing said.
The sooner county and state officials complete the preparations necessary for construction to begin, the sooner they can apply for more funding, Swain said.
"If you get the project shovel-ready, you have a better chance of getting it funded," she said.
The current funding could go as far as purchasing the right of way necessary to build the interchange, Suing said, but the state transportation department will need more money for design and construction.
In addition to building the $25.5 interchange on Interstate 82, the project includes a $4.5 million roundabout that connects highways 224 and 225 by Benton City.
In 2011, the state gave $375,000 to buy right of way for the roundabout, which the transportation department will use this spring, Suing said.