Rachel Road project in Richland not a done deal yet

The Richland City Council has approved a six-year transportation program with the extension of Rachel Road included. But that doesn't mean the controversial project is a done deal.

"There's no money for the road. Before anything will happen, a study has to be done. When we get grant money, or when we receive money to do a road, we take money out of that for the study and for holding more public meetings and getting people involved," Mayor Dave Rose said after Tuesday's council meeting, which included more than two hours of public comment, largely against the road.

"My message to the people is: Just because the (transportation program) was approved, doesn't mean the road is going to go through. There's got to be funding, and there's going to be more public input and there's going to be more looking at the alignment," Rose told the Herald.

The council voted 3-2 to approve the six-year Transportation Improvement Program, or TIP, near the end of an emotionally-charged meeting.

Rose voted for the TIP, along with Mayor Pro Tem Phillip Lemley and Councilman Brad Anderson. Council members Sandra Kent and Terry Christensen voted against, and Councilmen Bob Thompson and Gregory L. Jones were absent.

The TIP is a financial and project management tool that's updated every year.

City staffers have said extending Rachel from Leslie Road to Steptoe Street would improve safety and quality of life by relieving traffic congestion and improving connectivity for pedestrians, bicyclists and emergency vehicles.

But numerous residents have spoken out against it, primarily because of concern about harm to the Amon Creek Natural Preserve. The preserve is between Leslie and Steptoe, next to the planned Clearwater Creek subdivision. The extension would have to cross part of the 80-plus acre natural area.

The council meeting Tuesday drew dozens. The council chambers were standing room only, and people overflowed into the lobby area. All but a few speakers opposed the Rachel extension.

The council took its vote quickly after the public comment ended, with virtually no discussion.

Christensen said after the vote that he originally favored passing the TIP with the Rachel Road extension and accelerating a study of the project that would bring in the public. But, he said to residents, "you influenced me tonight" to instead vote against the TIP.

Anderson touched on the difficulty of the issue. "We like growth, we like progress, we like going out to eat at restaurants. Yet, maybe we're just happy having our home and should close the door to anybody else who wants to come in? That's a tough spot to be in. It's a tough spot for us to be in up here (on the council dais). What do you do? You try to be as thoughtful as you can, and try to plan a city as best you can," he said.

He said he understands the delicate nature of the area and noted there's still a lot of room to work out alignment and approving the TIP doesn't mean the extension would happen immediately.

Scott Woodward, president of the nonprofit Tapteal Greenway, which led creation of the Amon preserve and advocated against the road extension, told the Herald on Wednesday that he's disappointed. "It's very frustrating for a lot of people that have worked really hard," he said.

He said he hopes the outpouring from the community will resonate as the process moves forward.

"I'm hoping that somewhere, something was said over the course of the last three, four months that may stick and become directional," he said.

-- Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald