Volunteers embrace landscaping at 78th Street interchange on I-5

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith



Come springtime, motorists on Interstate 5 will see thousands of yellow daffodils blooming along the 78th Street exit ramps — a first sign of landscaping at an interchange completed 11 years ago. Volunteers planted young trees and bulbs Saturday morning as part of an effort to beautify the gateway to Northeast Hazel Dell.

The landscaping project was spurred in January when Vicki Fitzsimmons, board member of the Hazel Dell Salmon Creek Business Association and the Northeast Hazel Dell Neighborhood Association, approached the Washington Sate Department of Transportation. She also adopted the section of the freeway between 99th Street and Main Street, which includes the interchange.

Fitzsimmons, who works in Hazel Dell, said the work at the interchange is part of a larger effort to improve the area’s quality of life.

“It’s just bothered me,” she said. “Everything that you see is just weeds.”

The neighborhood association solicited donations from community members that were matched by the business association, along with $500 from Cost Less Auto Parts, $500 from Grover Electric and Plumbing and contributions from the county. Yard n’ Garden donated the bark dust and set up the trees in the four ramp sections before Saturday morning.

“It looks like the dickens,” said Ila Stanek as she dug through overgrown grass on the southwest side of the interchange. “We’ve got to make it better, because we all live here and we don’t want people to think it’s a bad place.”

Volunteers planted 75 cedar trees and 60 deciduous trees, along with thousands of yellow daffodil bulbs. About 50 people lent their time and labor, including four children doing restorative community service through the Juvenile Justice Center.

Finishing touches

WSDOT started constructing the 78th Street interchange in 1999 as part of a $45 million project that also included the Main Street interchange. While the agency completed the infrastructure at both sites, as well as about six acres of wetland mitigation at Main Street, that was all that had been planned and budgeted for, said Dan Corlett, the agency’s regional landscape architect for seven counties.

There was no money for the second stage, he said, which reflected the project planning mindset at the time.

“You built a road for future development,” Corlett said.

Landscaping is the easiest thing to cut out of project budgets because it’s the final touch, said assistant landscape architect Robert Phipps. Two years ago, the agency completed a similar after-the-fact landscaping effort on state Highway 500 at Thurston Way through a collaboration with the city of Vancouver. That interchange was completed in 2002, the same year as the one at 78th Street.

Six years ago, there was an effort among community members to complete the 78th Street landscaping. Gramor Development, which was involved in the LA Fitness complex, approached the Hazel Dell/Salmon Creek Business Association and Team 99 with an offer to help fund the landscaping. Others jumped on board to help, including JM Plaza, Fred Meyer, the Hazel Dell Square and Wilson Properties.

When the economy tanked, the plans fell apart. Corlett, however, reworked the landscaping design developed in 2007 and used it for Saturday’s planting.

Nowadays, landscaping is an integral part of planning and funding because there’s a bigger focus on the environmental impact. Phipps has worked on more recent landscaping projects such as the Salmon Creek interchange and the roundabouts on Pioneer Street in Ridgefield. Landscaping, he said, re-establishes lost vegetation, helps with water retention and assists with storm water runoff. WSDOT has set aside $30,000 for solid irrigation at 78th Street that will be installed sometime in February or March.

Motorists may not notice the new plants until spring, when the daffodils bloom, or next fall when many of the trees will be fuller and show their seasonal colors.