Officials seek comments on draft transportation plan

Mid-Columbia officials have made their list of transportation project wants, and now they are asking the public to check it before the proposal becomes a plan.

The Benton-Franklin Council of Governments is holding a public meeting today in Richland and Thursday in Walla Walla to collect public comment on the 2011-2030 regional transportation plan for Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties.

The 20-year plan, which is revised every five years, acts as a guideline for cities and counties to build projects and allows the governments to compete for state and federal funding for the projects listed in the plan, said Mark Kushner, council of governments transportation director.

"Without the plan, they won't get the money," he said.

Officials anticipate Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties will see 90,000 to 100,000 more people added to the area population in the next 20 years. That would mean about 311,000 people in the three counties by 2030, according to the draft plan.

With that much traffic potentially added to the roads, Kushner said planners have estimated where the choke points for congestion could be. The plan includes a list of suggested locations for modifications to ease traffic, including on Pasco's Road 68, the Highway 240/Interstate 182 interchange and the blue bridge.

The plan identifies the need and possible funding ideas but not exactly how those potential problems should be fixed, Kushner said.

The plan also lays out other projects that cities, counties and the state would like to complete in the area, such as those that would have economic benefits, he said.

Some of those projects include the Lewis Street overpass in Pasco, which would replace the aging railroad underpass, the Duportail Street bridge to provide access between central Richland and the Queensgate shopping district, extending Steptoe Street in Kennewick to connect Gage Boulevard west of the Columbia Center district to West 10th Avenue, and the Red Mountain interchange project, which would add an interchange on Interstate 82 near milepost 100 and provide direct access to West Richland and the Red Mountain American Viticulture Area.

Both meetings start at 5:30 p.m., with a 30-minute presentation beginning at 6 p.m. Today's meeting will be at the Ben Franklin Transit Administration Building, at 1000 Columbia Park Trail in Richland, and the Thursday meeting will be held in the Blue Mountain Room at the Walla Walla Regional Airport Terminal Building, at 45 Terminal Loop Road, Walla Walla.

Public comments on the plan will be accepted until Oct. 3. Comments can be emailed to transportation@bfcog.us.

Then, Kushner said, those comments will be taken into consideration, as well as the response received from the state and federal transportation agencies after the agencies review the plan.

He said the Benton Franklin Council of Governments hopes to accept the plan Nov. 18.

For a copy of the plan, go to www.bfcog.us/ RTP.html.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com