A new access road to a popular off-road vehicle area could be open next year.
Franklin County commissioners in April chose a new 4.2-mile road as their preferred alternative for access to the Juniper Dunes area off Pasco-Kahlotus highway. The Federal Highway Administration, which is funding part of the project, agreed.
No one spoke at a public hearing on the road Wednesday before commissioners voted 3-0 to establish the project.
County staff will now start work trying to acquire right-of-way from landowners along the proposed route, public works director Matt Mahoney said. The county’s goal is to start and complete construction in 2016.
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“We’ll push hard to do that,” Mahoney said. “We’ll be working with all the landowners to try to mitigate any concerns they might have.”
The county road is estimated to cost $3.8 million. Federal grants will cover most of the project, with Franklin County paying 13.5 percent of its cost.
The federal government also recently told the county that county staff would oversee the project.
“It sounds to me like it gives us more in-house oversight and participation and it doesn’t change our cost,” commission Chairman Brad Peck said.
The 19,600-acre Juniper Dunes property, which is named because it contains some of the state’s larger sand dunes and a juniper forest, is owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management. A 7,100-acre wilderness area is off-limits to motorists, but a separate 3,920-acre area is popular with off-road vehicles.
Local off-road vehicle clubs have been seeking an access road for decades. The only way to reach the off-highway area has been the privately owned Peterson Road, which was closed several times by landowners between 2001 and 2007 after property was damaged.
The county also considered buying and improving Peterson Road, located a mile west of the planned new road. But it determined that improving the road would be more expensive than building new, while also requiring the county to buy more property.
The county expects the first mile of the road to be paved, with the rest gravel.