The new year inevitably brings with it a host of challenges -- some old, some new -- and this year will be no different.
Though a continuing challenge in Pasco, reducing congestion on Road 68 should be partially realized in 2014, as medians to control turning movements will finally be installed along the corridor. The new "channelization" (at a cost of $1.2 million) will reduce the number of accidents (and close calls). However, the long line of cars on Burden Boulevard and Road 68 seeking to head west on Interstate 182 will have to wait much of another year for relief, as the city continues to seek approval from state and federal highway agencies for installation of the dual right turn suggested by the city three years ago.
Another "old" challenge is replacement of the obsolete Lewis Street underpass with a new overpass. Construction of the $30 million overpass cannot commence until sufficient financial commitment is obtained from the state. The legislature is likely to increase state-wide transportation revenue in 2015 to pay for "mega projects" around the state, as it has been a decade since the last state effort -- and current needs cannot be fulfilled without additional revenue. State funding should be a moral obligation of the state, as the underpass is a relic of the old state highway system, and its replacement cost simply cannot (and should not) be borne solely by the taxpayers of Pasco.
One of the more urgent goals for 2014 involves public safety as well as safety of Pasco law enforcement officers. Having two separate dispatch systems (one in each county) results in "dropped calls" when 911 cellphone calls go to the wrong dispatch center. By simply combining the two centers, the dropped calls -- and the substantial delays in emergency response -- will disappear. Having all law enforcement on the same radio system will also enhance officer safety, particularly when one agency is helping another respond to a crime in progress. And there is potential for cost savings in the long term, so taxpayers could actually realize better service for the same tax dollars. Combined or "regional" dispatch centers have become the norm in metropolitan areas all around the country, and a recent study of the Benton-Franklin concept has already confirmed its benefits here. The only obstacle is a formal agreement between the two counties and the three cities. A consultant is working on such an agreement for the group and is expected to present its recommendation by May. Citizens should insist on its implementation as soon as possible, as it will improve emergency services throughout both counties every day.
Another regional goal for 2014 is replacement of the Tri-Cities Animal Shelter. The building, constructed in the 1960s, is simply worn out for its use. The ventilation system is too small and worn out, the building does not have adequate drainage systems for the animal waste generated every day, and it is far too small to allow an efficient shelter operation. A consultant engaged by the three cities in 2009 recommended a new shelter. After investigating the potential for partnership with Benton County or the Benton-Franklin Humane Society and concluding neither option was viable for the urban area needs, the three cities recently initiated the effort to find a suitable location for a new and larger shelter. With the investigative delays behind us, development of the new shelter needs to get on a fast track this year, so it can be accomplished and operational by 2016. That, however, will require a commitment by all three cities to make the project a priority for the region -- one that is just as important as a new road, sewer line or park.
Fulfillment of these two regional needs and advancement of the two Pasco goals would certainly make 2014 a year of progress -- and make Pasco and the Tri-Cities an even better place to live.