A new sixth-tenths of a mile section of Steptoe Street along the Kennewick-Richland city limits is open to the public.
Officials from the cities gathered on a warm Thursday morning near a new railroad bridge built for Phase 2 of the Steptoe project. After a half-hour ceremony, they cut a ribbon and traffic was allowed through.
The newly opened stretch of road allows drivers to take Steptoe from Center Parkway to Fourth Avenue.
“We’ve been waiting a long time to get a way to go from Gage over to Clearwater without having to make a lot of turns,” said Kennewick Mayor Steve Young.
Steve Plummer, Kennewick’s engineering services manager, said it was paid for with $2.1 million from the Federal Highway Administration’s Surface Transportation Program, as well as a $1.8 million grant from the state Transportation Improvement Board.
A new BNSF Railway Co. bridge was paid for using $2.1 million in federal money, which Plummer credited Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., for securing.
Young said BNSF was able to build the new bridge in 18 hours.
Kennewick officials hope to begin construction next year on the third phase of Steptoe Street, which will link to 10th Avenue. The state has committed $3.1 million to that $5.2 million project, but the remainder is expected to come from the city's capital improvement funds.
“We will be pursuing other funding, obviously,” Plummer said.
Eventually, Steptoe Street will connect all the way to Hildebrand Boulevard south of Kennewick, which Young said will allow for a “loop” connecting Highways 240 and 395.
Richland Mayor John Fox had fun with that.
“In the future, we’ll be able to call Kennewick the loopiest city in the Tri-Cities,” Fox said, eliciting groans from the audience.
Phase 2 of the Steptoe expansion was originally planned to end at Clearwater, but Kennewick was able to extend it another 700 feet to Fourth Avenue due to cost savings and additional grant money.
The road projects will provide improved connectivity for Southridge and areas where 60 percent of Kennewick’s future growth is expected, Young said.
Along with Murray, officials said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., helped bring federal funding to the Steptoe Street project.
In a letter read to almost 100 attendees Thursday, Cantwell said the project will reduce traffic on Columbia Center Boulevard in Kennewick and Leslie Road in Richland, while providing better access to the Clearwater Business Park.
“The Steptoe Street project will provide a critical link in the regional transportation system,” she wrote. “Tri-Citians traveling between Richland and Kennewick will face less congestion and businesses will have better access to thoroughfares.”