The widening of George Washington Way at Interstate 182 is on hold while the city of Richland focuses on building a bridge over the Yakima River between Queensgate and downtown.
The temporary hiatus leaves a cloud hanging over the Tri-Cities Academy of Ballet & Dance, which could be demolished under one of several scenarios proposed last summer to improve Richland’s north-south arterial.
Ballet school owner Joel Rogo welcomes the breathing room. Monday, he said the road project that could potentially force him and his wife to move their business is a constant concern.
“It’s in the back of my mind: What is my future?”
Jeffrey Peters, Richland’s engineering and development manager, confirmed work on George Washington is on hold while staff focuses on the $38 million Duportail Bridge Project.
“At this point in time, it is not a pressing priority for us,” he said.
At this point in time, (George Washington Way) is not a pressing priority for us.
Jeffrey Peters, city of Richland
Duportail vaulted to the top of the city’s transportation list when the 2015 Legislature set aside $20 million in gas tax receipts. But the focus will return to George Washington.
Peters expects to ask the city council to prioritize its post-Duportail transportation priorities this spring. George Washington Way and the Queensgate intersection are top contenders, though council members could bump up another traffic hot spot.
The George Washington widening roared into the public’s consciousness when city engineers outlined during an open house last summer three possible scenarios to improve traffic flow, cut the number of wrecks and protect pedestrians. News the project could doom the ballet school at Aaron Drive drew particular ire.
The city does have a problem to solve.
It estimates 42,000 vehicles each day pass along the south end of George Washington Way, creating a bottleneck that regularly backs up to the north.
42,000 vehicles per day on George Washington Way
A 2013 traffic study by J-U-B Engineers of Kennewick identified 206 wrecks from 2006-10, including head-on collisions and left-turn smashups. The report and other information is posted to the city’s George Washington Way project page, http://bit.ly/GWayProject.
It will cost about $6.2 million to upgrade George Washington Way, according to the city’s transportation plan. Funds have not been secured.
Rogo said it’s all those drivers who pass his business every day that make 21 Aaron Drive such a valuable address. Relocating would damage its visibility.
“My name is out there 50,000 times a day. I think (the location) has been very critical to the success of our business,” he said.
My name is out there 50,000 times a day. I think (the location) has been very critical to the success of our business
Joel Rogo, Tri-Cities Academy of Ballet
Rogo and his wife, Debra Pearse Rogo, bought the ballet school 29 years ago.
At the time, it had about 180 students and was closer to downtown. The Rogos built the current building in 2002 and lease it to their business, standard practice in family owned businesses. Today, the ballet school serves more than 650 students and has about 20 part-time employees. Rogo said six depend on it for their livelihoods.
The uncertainty over the future of its 12,000-square-foot home casts a pall over future plans.
“I’ve done the American Dream. We’ve contributed to the community and impacted the lives of literally thousands of children. We want to sit back and enjoy life,” he said.
At 66, Rogo said that he and Debra want to enjoy the fruits of what they spent almost three decades building. They have no plans to retire or sell the business in the short-term. It is possible the couple will seek a like-minded buyer to take it over in the future.
“Right now, we’re in a holding pattern,” he said. “I won the battle but not the war.”
Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell