Franklin County's plans to build an access road to the popular Juniper Dunes Recreation Area will have to wait -- possibly three more years.
The county learned Friday that its application for a $1.05 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration has been turned down.
But the Juniper Dunes proposal likely will be at the top of the list for the next two-year round of funding in 2016 -- as long as Congress reauthorizes the Washington State Federal Lands Access Program.
"If it is continued, I think we will be the first ones," said county Commission Chairman Rick Miller.
Lee Retterer, president of the Tri-Cities Peak Putters, said he is hopeful that the money will come through in three years.
"We'd like to see it before 2016, but, if it actually happens in 2016, we'd be pretty happy with that," said Retterer, whose group rides four-wheel drive vehicles at Juniper Dunes.
The recreational area includes 19,600 acres under the control of the Bureau of Land Management.
About 3,920 acres is open to off-road vehicles. It also is popular for hiking, horseback riding, hunting, studying nature and other activities.
Federal officials toured Juniper Dunes in April as part of the county's push to find money to build the 4.2-mile road connecting it to the Pasco-Kahlotus highway.
The county had a $650,000 grant from the Bureau of Land Management, as well as a match of $163,617 of its own money to help with the project. The road is expected to cost $2 million, but the county has a few options for routes depending on how much money it's able to find to pay for it.
The only way to reach Juniper Dunes now is on Peterson Road, but county officials say the road is rough, has poor drainage and has areas where it's difficult to see other drivers.
The road also has a large "keep out" sign near the entrance, though Retterer said it is questionable whether the sign is there legally.
He said an adequate road should have been built decades ago when the recreation area was established. A new road would greatly increase the number of visitors. About 250 people a a day use the road during the peak season.
The Juniper Dunes road should be a "perfect fit" for the program, Miller said. "Access is what that's all about," he said.
Juniper Dunes was one of 37 projects in Washington competing for $13.5 million in grants this year.
The project was one of 16 in the state selected to receive funding but not necessarily right away.