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Kennewick mulls $6M shortfall for highway Southridge overpass

Kennewick plans an open house May 10 on plans to build an overpass at Ridgeline Drive and Highway 395 in the fast-growing Southridge neighborhood.
Kennewick plans an open house May 10 on plans to build an overpass at Ridgeline Drive and Highway 395 in the fast-growing Southridge neighborhood. Tri-City Herald

Head south on Highway 395 and the last Kennewick street you’ll pass is Ridgeline Drive.

The nondescript road offers the most direct connection between the highway and the city’s fastest-growing neighborhood, Southridge.

The area is home to Southridge High School, Trios Southridge Hospital, Sage Crest Elementary, new subdivisions and apartment complexes and a robust array of restaurants and retailers.

But drivers seldom use Ridgeline to get on or off the highway because there’s no traffic signal and no left turns allowed in either direction.

The city and the Washington Department of Transportation have long wanted to make the Ridgeline intersection safer.

And as development pressure mounts, they’re advancing plans to build a $24 million highway overpass and to install proper on and off ramps.

The agencies plan an open house at 4:30 p.m. May 10 in the Southridge High School Library, 3520 Southridge Blvd., to present various configurations.

The question is how to make the intersection safer and more attractive to drivers who clog Hildebrand.

Kennewick and Washington Department of Transportation plan an open house at 4:30 p.m. May 10 in the Southridge High School Library, 3520 Southridge Blvd., to present various configurations for a $24 million highway overpass at Ridgeline Drive and Highway 395.

Consultants David Evans and Associations and MacKay Sposito have proposed three configurations for the on/off ramps that blend a cloverleaf approach with more direct diamond patterns.

Kennewick once favored a roundabout but the idea foundered when the state Department of Transportation objected. The speed of vehicles on the highway, the large number of trucks and the grade of the hill rendered the roundabout idea unworkable.

The overpass plan gained momentum in 2014 when the city secured a $750,000 federal grant to begin designing it, and again in 2015, when the state Legislature earmarked $15 million in its $16 billion transportation package for Ridgeline.

The city committed $2.1 million to the project and it qualified for a state surface transportation project grant of nearly $650,000.

That leaves the $6 million gap.

The Ridgeline project closely parallels Richland’s Duportail Bridge project both in need and funding.

Both aim to improve traffic and safety in fast-growing areas. Both received money from the 2015 Legislature, even after both local representatives, Republicans Larry Haler of Richland and Brad Klippert of Kennewick, voted against raising gas taxes to pay for the package.

Both received significant allocations from the transportation package, but not enough to foot the entire bill.

The Richland City Council solved its funding gap last week when it approved a 20-year, $20 car tab fee after months of public debate. The fee will support construction as well as street maintenance, another challenge Richland shares with Kennewick.

But the Kennewick City Council signaled its unease with car tab fees in February when it unanimously refused to send Richland a letter of support.

Kennewick typically funds capital improvement projects with revenue bonds.

At the end of last year, the city had $35.5 million in outstanding bond debt, a level that is well below the total $140 million in debt it could take on for various purposes under state law.

The law limits general obligation debt is to 1.5 percent of the total assessed value of the municipality without a vote of citizens, or to 2.5 percent if the bonds are put out to voters for approval.

The city also levies a transportation impact fee on new construction, both residential and construction. A new home will pay $938 this year, while commercial rates are based on estimated traffic impacts.

Kennewick has budgeted $1 million to the Ridgeline project in its $40 million capital budget for 2017. It estimates $2 million for each of the following three years.

The city plans to finalize the design for the project in January and to appraise the parcels it needs by then as well. It plans to advertise the project in 2019.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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