Drivers in the Southridge area of south Kennewick who want to get to Richland or the west side of Kennewick have few choices, none of them great.
They can backtrack toward downtown Kennewick on Highway 395, then snake through the double roundabout to head west on Highway 240. Or go south to Interstate 82 and exit at Clearwater Avenue and go east to Leslie Road or Steptoe Street — unless they need to go around Badger Mountain to get to the Interstate 182 exit.
Or they can drive through stop-and-go traffic on city streets.
But that will change with the 2.4-mile extension of Hildebrand Boulevard. The new route will go from the existing intersection with Sherman Street in Southridge, running south of Thompson Hill to the new five corners roundabout, where it is designed to connect to the recently extended Steptoe Street at 10th Avenue.
It will also cut the time for drivers traveling between highways 395 and 240, said Cary Roe, Kennewick’s public works director.
“There will be no stoplights, so it will be free-flowing,” he said. “It will be significantly faster to go on Hildebrand than any of the other east-west arterials.”
City officials want to take the project, which is estimated to cost about $4.8 million, out for bid late this year and start construction in March, Roe said. It should be complete in fall 2016.
“I hope that, by this time next year, we’ve got a road open,” he said.
The project is unofficially known as phase 4 of the Steptoe-Hildebrand project. The $6.4 million third phase is being done in two parts by Premier Excavation, with an expansion of Steptoe Street to two lanes in each direction with a center turn lane between Fourth and 10th avenues already complete. Phase 3B is now under construction. It involves laying the subgrade, or foundation, for the extension of Hildebrand Boulevard south of Thompson Hill. Sewer lines are also being placed.
Phase 3B is about 65 percent complete, Roe said.
The project began in 2010, when work started to extend Steptoe Street south of Gage Boulevard to Center Parkway. Steptoe Street was later brought to Fourth Avenue and the extension to 10th Avenue opened this summer.
Some obstacles remain for the next phase, including securing right of way for the road to cross land owned by Apollo Heating and Air, Roe said. If that doesn’t work out, the city has a backup plan for traffic to go along Clodfelter and Wheat roads before joining with Hildebrand.
The backup design is not as functional or efficient, Roe said.
“We’d have to build an intersection if we can’t get the right of way,” he said. “With the current design, it is just going to flow.”
The upcoming project will also include building a water main.
The new road will provide access to new subdivisions, including a 400-lot area called SouthCliffe that’s being built by developers Milo Bauder and Grant Young on the southwest side of Thompson Hill. The city also is doing a feasibility review for another 602 lots on 160 acres south of Hildebrand Boulevard and west of Sherman Street.
A city map also calls for a 29-acre commercial development southwest of Thompson Hill, in an area where Hildebrand could eventually meet with roundabouts for two unnamed future roads. One of those could lead to a future interchange with I-82.
Developers and business owners regularly ask about the progress of the road during meetings, said Emily Estes-Cross, Kennewick economic development director.
“Anytime we open up a corridor like that, it facilitates the movement of traffic from one side of town to another, so that is going to benefit businesses on both sides of town,” she said.
The city council named the project its No. 1 priority for roads, said Marie Mosley, city manager.
It will also divert traffic from busy streets like Clearwater and 10th avenues, and, possibly, even Columbia Center Boulevard, Roe said.
“It reduces some current traffic and will redirect some future growth traffic,” he said.
The road will be built as a “spine” for future growth in south Kennewick, Roe said. Most of it will be built with a lane in each direction, plus wide shoulders or bicycle lanes. It will have spaces in the center median periodically to allow for planned future intersections.
The road will have gravel on either side, which can be built over when the need calls for the road to be expanded to five lanes, Roe said.