Franklin County commissioners are scheduled to vote Wednesday on whether to build a new 4.2-mile road to the Juniper Dunes area.
The commissioners are to decide that plan, dubbed “Alternative 2,” is its first choice for access into the area northeast of Pasco that includes a wilderness section and an area popular with off-road vehicles.
County staff recommend Alternative 2 rather than improving a privately owned roadway.
If approved, the recommendation moves on to the Federal Highway Administration, which is working with the county on the project as part of its Western Federal Lands Highway Division.
Alternative 2 would build a road to connect Juniper Dunes to the Pasco-Kahlotus highway. The other option involves the county taking over a private road, Peterson Road.
The new road, about a mile east of Peterson Road, is straighter and would be a more direct connection to the off-road vehicle area.
The estimated cost is $3.8 million, according to a report released this week by the Franklin County Public Works Department.
That’s less than any of the Peterson options, which ranged from $3.9 million to $4.3 million. The new road will only require buying 16 acres of private land, while Peterson Road would have needed more than 24 acres.
Jan Rogers, whose family farm is near the new route, still was not sure what, if any, of her land might be used. But either way, she is worried about an increase in vehicles in the area, particularly if people have been drinking.
“We’re not excited about it at all,” she told the Herald. “We can see nothing but headaches from people coming down. We can see people that have four-wheelers tearing up our crops or dumping out their garbage.”
The Tri-Cities Peak Putters, a group that rides Jeeps, trucks and other vehicles in the off-road area, have been trying for years to find a safe, legal way to reach Juniper Dunes.
They’ve argued that access should have been included when the Bureau of Land Management bought land for the area in the ’70s.
“It seems like forever,” said Dave Walters, with Tri-Cities Peak Putters. “I’ve obviously got a few opinions about how things were handled, but that’s finally being rectified.”
“That (new road) probably, in the long run, will be a better alternative,” he said.
The BLM-owned Juniper Dunes area is 19,600 acres, including the off-road area; the wilderness, where no vehicles are allowed, and an area where vehicles must stick to existing routes.
Peterson Road and private access roads north of it were closed several times by landowners between 2001 and 2007 after property was damaged.
Peterson Road also meets the Pasco-Kahlotus highway at a dangerous angle for seeing other vehicles. Poor road conditions are also difficult for emergency vehicle access.
Conditions on Peterson Road are so bad that there was no engineering and construction cost difference between improving it and building a new road, the report said.
All of the proposed routes would have some impact on farmland, and land owners would be compensated as part of the right-of-way acquisition process, the report said.
Former County Engineer Tim Fife initially wanted to buy Peterson Road and bring it up to county standards, but that idea came into question when it was discovered that an irrigation line runs beneath the road, and moving it would cost more than the county had for the project at the time.
The road will be paid for with two grants from the Bureau of Land Management and the Federal Highway Administration. Franklin County must contribute 13.5 percent of the grant from the highway administration.
The new road will be 26 feet wide and paved for the first mile and covered in gravel the rest of the way.
The Federal Highway Administration has the final decision on the route, but has strongly considered Franklin County’s opinion in the process, said public works officials.