A project to provide better access from Interstate 82 to Benton City and West Richland picked up some state money at the end of the legislative session, but not what one state representative was hoping to get.
The state's two-year transportation budget included $870,000 for design and right of way work for the Red Mountain project. State Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, requested $5 million. That would have been enough to pay for the first portion of the $3.5 million project, which would include a roundabout at the Benton City exit off Interstate 82, and the start of additional work.
"I wish there was more so we could get phase 1 done," Klippert said.
Moe Davari, project engineer with the state Department of Transportation, said the money the Legislature did approve already was in place for evaluation work.
"All they did was move it to the next biennium," he said.
The remainder of the almost $30 million project includes a new interchange off Interstate 82 at Red Mountain that would provide better access to West Richland, as well as wineries in the area.
Hope still remains to secure $27.5 million for the project, but that would require the Legislature to pass a 10-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax. Such a tax increase also would require voter approval unless it gets two-thirds approval by the Legislature, a move considered unlikely because of Republican opposition.
While the gas tax still could pass during the special session that starts May 13, and then go to a vote, Klippert said the Red Mountain project could fall down the priority list behind more high-profile projects, such as the north-south freeway in Spokane and a new floating bridge over Lake Washington.
"Don't hold your breath," he said. "There are a whole lot of projects."
Because it involves an interstate highway, Davari said the project also will need Federal Highway Administration approval.
If nothing comes of the gas tax in the special session, Klippert said he will again seek funding for the first phase of the Red Mountain project in the 2014 legislative session, and this time he will make more clear that the money is going toward an important job in its own right, even though it is part of a larger long-term project.
"They want to look at it as a $29 million project, when this is a project that is done in four phases," Klippert said.
West Richland Mayor Donna Noski said she was happy with the money the Legislature was able to deliver. She praised Klippert and Reps. Larry Haler, R-Richland, Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, and Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, as well as Sens. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, and Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, for voting for the project.
"We're pleased to see a million dollars," Noski said. "That will keep our project moving forward. We'll just have to see what the Legislature can work out."
Davari said the gas tax could also provide funding for widening 22 miles of Highway 12 between Pasco and Walla Walla to four lanes. That is the last part of the highway that needs widening between the cities.