Construction on new Benton City roundabout could begin by end of year

Washington state is putting in a roundabout in Benton City at the intersection of highways 224 and 225 to deal with increasing traffic to wineries in the Red Mountain area.
Washington state is putting in a roundabout in Benton City at the intersection of highways 224 and 225 to deal with increasing traffic to wineries in the Red Mountain area. Tri-City Herald

Tri-Citians won’t have to go far to see the first project built under the state’s $16 billion transportation package.

A roundabout at the Benton City exit off Interstate 82 is designed to improve the intersection with Highway 225, which goes into Benton City, and Highway 224, which goes to West Richland.

Brian White, interim regional administrator for the state Department of Transportation, said completing the roundabout is necessary before work can start on the new Red Mountain interchange, about four miles to the east.

Bids were announced last week on the roundabout project, with Rotschy Inc. of Vancouver, Wash., submitting the low bid of $2.7 million, just below the engineer’s estimate, White said. The bid may be approved this week.

“We’re reviewing the estimates to make sure there aren’t any bid ambiguities,” he said.

Rebuilding of the intersection should start by the end of the year and be completed in 2016, White said.

The roundabout will be one lane, but the project will allow drivers coming off the westbound freeway to do a U-turn to get onto Highway 224 before they enter the roundabout, according to renderings on the transportation department’s website.

The roundabout will reduce collisions at the interchange and also reduce emergency response times by 50 percent, the department said. It is intended to reduce backups getting off and on the interstate.

The project was considered shovel-ready because its design was already complete when the state Legislature this summer passed the transportation package, which is being paid for using an 11.9 cents-per-gallon gas tax increase, White said.

Other area projects slated to get money from the transportation package, dubbed “Connecting Washington,” include downtown Pasco’s Lewis Street overpass, a Duportail Street bridge over the Yakima River in Richland and a Ridgeline Drive overpass at Highway 395 in Kennewick’s Southridge area.

The Benton City roundabout is considered phase 1 of the Red Mountain project, with the $28 million interchange also approved by the state. The federal government requires states to see if improvements to existing roads can be made before building a new exit off an interstate, White said.

“Sometimes if you make the improvements, you don’t need a new interchange,” he said.

The new roundabout will be helpful in providing access to West Richland and the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area, but won’t replace the need for the interchange, said Port of Kennewick Commissioner Skip Novakovich.

“Red Mountain is going to be one of the greatest AVAs the United States has,” he said. “This is our Boeing.”

The need for the project was promoted for economic development, but the state has a responsibility to the federal government to show it will have benefits beyond that. Novakovich said the benefits are clear in transportation and emergency management, because there is now no exit for a five-and-a-half-mile stretch of I-82 between Benton City and the Interstate 182 interchange near Badger Mountain.

The interchange would include access to Kennedy Road and Highway 224 from the interstate.

“There’s a whole variety of uses for it beside the fact that West Richland has no freeway access,” Novakovich said.

Washington’s U.S. senators and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, have been supportive of the project, Novakovich said.

“Everybody that we can think of is supportive,” he said. “It’s just a matter of making it happen.”

The port is redeveloping the former Tri-City Raceway, located near the proposed interchange, into a wine facility that will include a $2 million effluent treatment plant, as well as storage for area wineries.

Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom