Speaker after speaker urged the Richland City Council on Tuesday night to drop plans to eventually extend Rachel Road from Leslie Road to Steptoe Street, with many citing harm to the Amon Creek Natural Preserve.
The preserve -- which is between Leslie and Steptoe, next to the planned Clearwater Creek subdivision -- would be in the path of the road.
The city council is elected to represent residents, and “the majority of the people who live here do not want this project to go ahead,” said Sheila Sullivan of Richland, before an overflow crowd at city hall. Council chambers were standing room only, and dozens of citizens spilled into the lobby area.
Before the meeting, a resident dressed as a beaver and another as a rabbit stood outside, with the beaver holding a sign reading, “Don’t destroy my home.”
The Rachel Road extension was on the council’s agenda Tuesday as part of the city’s six-year Transportation Improvement Program, or TIP, a financial planning tool that’s updated annually.
At about 10:30 p.m., after more than two hours of testimony, the council voted 3-2 to approve the TIP.
Afterward, Mayor Dave Rose, who was among those voting in favor, said the action doesn't mean the road extension is a done deal. "There's no money for the road. Before anything will happen, a study has to be done. When we get grant money, or when we receive money to do a road, we take money out of that for a study and holding more public meetings and getting people involved," he said.
"My message to the people is, just because the TIP was approved doesn't mean the road is going to go through. There's got to be funding, and there's going to be more public input and more looking at the alignment," he said.
Mayor Pro Tem Phillip Lemley and Councilman Brad Anderson also voted in favor of the TIP. Council members Sandra Kent and Terry Christensen voted against, and Councilmen Bob Thompson and Gregory L. Jones were absent.
City staffers have said the extension -- which would happen at least a few years down the road -- would improve safety and quality of life by relieving traffic congestion and improving connectivity for pedestrians, bicyclists and emergency vehicles.
But residents have said the project would be devastating to the preserve, which is home to all kinds of native plants and wildlife.
Scott Woodward, president of the nonprofit Tapteal Greenway, talked about the years of work, money and volunteer hours that have been invested in the preserve.
“Voices from all parts of Richland and the surrounding communities want to share their story,” he said, as people in the audience held up handmade signs identifying where they’re from -- neighborhoods in Richland and beyond. “They have one more sunset of hope left in them. They hope you will listen and make a decision based on their stories and not a computer model.”
Some people who live on the existing Rachel Road also spoke against the project, saying it would bring too much traffic to a residential road.
The city’s parks and recreation commission recommended the council approve the TIP, with the Rachel Road project removed.
The planning commission recommended the TIP be approved with the Rachel Road project, but included the request that the council prioritize an in-depth study of the extension before any work on it begins. The study should bring in the public and other stakeholders and look at options including not building the road at all, commissioners said.
The potential extension of Rachel Road gained heightened public attention in recent months as the Clearwater Creek subdivision worked its way through city government.
The city is requiring right of way in the planned 320-home subdivision for the road.
A few speakers Tuesday urged the council to keep the Rachel Road project in the TIP, including Kennewick’s public works director, who said it’s a long-standing planned road that’s included in local and regional transportation plans and is an important connection.
Kennewick School District Superintendent Dave Bond said a connection from Leslie Road to the subdivision is critical to his district’s interest in property within Clearwater Creek for a future elementary school. The subdivision is in Richland, but falls within the Kennewick School District.
-- Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald