A Richland open house on proposed improvements to George Washington Way near Highway 240 drew more than 500 people Thursday, many of them wearing blue “Save our Ballet” T-shirts.
The city is considering three proposals, one of which would widen George Washington Way to 10 lanes. There are also two “split T” proposals — one would put a new road behind houses on Abbot Street, another would reconfigure Aaron Drive.
Young dancers from the Tri-Cities Academy of Ballet and Music greeted the attendees as they entered the Richland Community Center, performing routines outside. The ballet school could be purchased by the city and demolished under the proposal to rebuild the Aaron Drive intersection.
Just inside the door, more ballet supporters collected signatures on a petition. Ballet co-owner Joel Rogo said more than 200 adults signed.
People filled out surveys and got information from city public works officials. Three monitors showed how traffic on George Washington Way is projected to move under the different options, compared to how it would look if nothing is done.
Rogo was pleased with the turnout, but uncertain whether it will make a difference with the city.
“I would have preferred a town hall meeting, but a town hall meeting would have been very raucous, in my favor, I think,” he said. “And I don’t think the city wanted that.”
The open house setting allows city staff to have more direct communication with attendees, said Pete Rogalsky, public works director.
“We feel that we are more effective in getting information out, and we can also get input,” he said.
Each of the options is estimated to cost between $5 million and $7 million, though the city plans to do more cost analysis in the next couple of months.
About 42,000 vehicles a day pass through the section of George Washington way near the Highway 240-Interstate 182 interchange. The city estimates that will increase by at least 1 percent each year.
Rogo is afraid the city favors a split T alignment, which would close off the existing entrance from Aaron Drive to George Washington Way. It would keep the intersection with Columbia Point Drive, but add an intersection just south of it at either the realigned Aaron Drive or the new street.
“I think it’s totally skewed to the way city staff prefers,” he said.
The ballet school gave away 300 shirts, under the condition that people wear them to the meeting.
Among the ballet parents there Thursday was Randy Hayden, executive director of the Port of Pasco. He, like Rogo, prefers widening George Washington Way.
“From what I’ve seen, it seems like the way to relieve congestion and keep the ballet school there,” he said.
The ballet academy is also an economic driver for the city, Hayden said. He and his wife will typically drop their daughter, Tove, 12, off at the school and find something else to do in the area rather than going back to Pasco and returning later.
“It’s a good time to do some shopping at WinCo or Fred Meyer, or go out and get something to eat,” he said.
Others want to see the city consider all the options.
“I think they’re giving it a lot of thought,” said Carl Berkowitz of Richland. “The final solution is going to have to be what’s best for all the community.”
Berkowitz wants the city to reconsider plans for a pedestrian underpass on George Washington Way and instead build an overpass with a spiral ramp that can be used by disabled people and cyclists.
About 700 people have taken the online survey at http://bit.ly/GWaySurvey in the week it has been up, city spokeswoman Trish Herron said. It will be available for another week and a half.
The city could take until the end of the year or longer to choose which option to go with, Rogalsky said. It could even choose a different route if a good suggestion is made.
City officials were pleased with the turnout. A similar meeting in March on planned upgrades to Queensgate Drive drew 120 people.
“I’m inspired,” City Councilman Terry Christensen said. “I wish that every time we had a meeting it would get this much interest from the community. You really want to hear from the people.”