County aims to move up start date for Salmon Creek interchange

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Seven years after it landed on the state’s list of road projects funded by a nickel gas-tax hike, Salmon Creek’s new freeway interchange will start rolling out next summer.

That’s the word from county commissioners, who plan to delay layoffs for a few road engineers in order to push up the start date of the $140 million project by a few months.

If work in Salmon Creek doesn’t start by late summer, Commissioner Steve Stuart said last week, “I’ll be out there with a jackhammer in the road.”

Stuart, who also plans to be on Salmon Creek residents’ ballots in November 2010, said Monday that he wants to get Clark County’s $40 million bill for the project into the local economy as fast as possible.

“We are not going to miss next year’s construction season,” Stuart said. “This is the project that will put people to work immediately, and it will lay the foundation for jobs in the future.”

The major bypass surgery of the complicated freeway interchange has been planned and replanned.

At stake are proposals for a small-business incubation area near Washington State University Vancouver and further growth for the medical campus now springing up around Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center. Both those visions have been stalled by state laws that require roads to be funded before development takes place.

The current — and, county leaders say, final — scheme is for 139th Street to be extended over Interstates 5 and 205, creating a big new east-west road that will cut congestion on 134th Street’s busy commercial corridor.

Other changes include a new ramp system for I-5 and moving C-Tran’s park and ride from 134th to the southeast corner of 139th Street and Northeast 10th Avenue.

It would all be done by late 2012 or early 2013, county planner Bill Wright said Monday.

The county expects to borrow up to $18 million to do the project, Public Works Director Pete Capell said. It’ll commit the county’s property-tax driven road fund to payments of about $1.5 million for about 20 years.

As a rule, the county government doesn’t typically borrow money to build its roads. But Capell hopes to take advantage of low construction prices that could reduce or even eliminate the county’s projected $18 million loan.

“This is a necessary project that will be more expensive if we wait,” Capell said. “There’s still going to be rush-hour congestion, but nothing like what people experience today. And it’ll be much safer and move much more traffic through the area.”

Stuart, who grew up in the Mount Vista area north of Salmon Creek, said his enthusiasm for getting workers on the street by next summer is personal as well as political and economic.

“The fix has been needed for as long as I can remember,” Stuart said. “There are a lot of people and a lot of businesses that need this to happen.”

Michael Andersen: 360-735-4508 or michael.andersen@columbian.com.