Washougal seeks public input on transportation priorities

Published:

 

The Washougal City Council and Transportation Benefit District Board have been debating some of our transportation needs and how to fund them for several months now. Some of these decisions will direct the future course of our community for 50 years or more.

The community is largely unaware of these issues. I hope for more community awareness and discussion.

Come to the council meetings or workshops July 27 and Aug. 10. Call or write. Buttonhole us in Safeway or on the street. The council needs to know what you think.

In summary, the questions revolve around street maintenance and building a grade-separated railroad crossing — a flyover — at 27th Street.

A piece of this is whether to impose a $20 tab fee that would be added to the cost of registering a car or truck in Washougal. If we enact the tab fee, how do we use the roughly $220,000 per year it would generate? By law, it can only be spent on transportation.

The most discussed choices are to commit the revenue to street maintenance or to paying back a loan and use the proceeds to help pay for the flyover.

For some, maintaining the condition of our streets is the high priority. At a cost of a few tens of thousands of dollars per mile, sealing and thin topcoats, every six or seven years or so will maintain the street almost indefinitely.

On the other hand, without that maintenance in a decade or so the street will break up down to the base, requiring full-on repaving, which costs millions of dollars per mile.

It will cost about $500,000 a year to maintain our streets. Our 2015 budget committed roughly $300,000. The tab fee revenue, on top of the existing allocation, would get us to maintaining our pavement condition at the present level.

For others, the high priority is the construction of a flyover at 27th Street. It would cost in the neighborhood of $16 million. The State Legislature has included $7.5 million for it in the recently approved transportation package.

Committing $220,000 a year from a tab fee to a 20 -year revenue bond would generate roughly $3 million. The remaining $5 million would have to come from additional grants, loans, or the city’s general fund or transportation impact fees.

Why 27th and not 32nd? Given how high you have to clear the tracks, there isn’t room to get up and down on 32nd. A straight across crossing at 32nd would ramp up south of Main Street on 32nd and not be back to ground level until hundreds of feet past Evergreen. Ramps would consume the Shell Station and a significant chunk of Evergreen Shopping Center.

During the early planning, before Evergreen Shopping Center was built, the city discussed the need for a flyover at 32nd, but decided to go ahead and create the facts on the ground that we now struggle with. It is important to get this right.

In early 2012, council looked at the outlines of a huge SR-14 project. It would provide interchanges at Washougal River Road and at 32nd leading to a 27th flyover and improvements to 32nd Street ad Stiles Road. Given current and projected funding for Clark County Priority Transportation Projects, on the Regional Transportation Council list, the likelihood of getting $100 million for our SR-14 project is vanishingly small. So at least for the foreseeable future, a 27th street flyover would have to be served by the existing turn onto 32nd from SR-14.

So from SR-14 eastbound, you would have the left turn lane off SR-14 at 32nd, a block down 32nd you’d turn left onto Addy Street, turn right onto 27th, go through the intersection with Main Street then go up over the flyover and down to a traffic light for the right turn onto Evergreen, and then a few blocks later enter a left turn lane for the light at 32nd.

Going the other way is just as circuitous, with at least two left turns at lights and passage through intersections busy with cross traffic. It turns Evergreen into traffic light nightmare.

Making the turn from 32nd at Main, instead of Addy, is problematic because the flyover must angle to the Northeast, so the turn from Main onto the flyover is acute, more than 90 degrees, and difficult for trucks. The railroad spur to the port industrial area crosses Main Street just east of 27th, further complicating the design.

In order to build the flyover, the city would be required to close at least one at-grade-crossing. The hope is to satisfy the requirement by closing 20th or 24th, but the railroad could insist on closing 32nd Street.

According to the mayor’s figures, the average railroad closure at 32nd was less than four minutes, and the longest was less than six minutes, so the flyover would actually save time over the existing crossing.

The supporters of the project would use the tab fee to fund a revenue bond. The city would be locked in to paying off that bond for 20 years, with no flexibility. Twenty years is a long time. Things change.

Sixteen years ago Washington had a motor vehicle excise tax. Twenty-four percent of the MVET was being returned to local communities to fund transportation.

At the beginning of 2000, those MVET funds disappeared. If the city had committed MVET to a revenue bond, the city would have been in deep “do-do.”

The current system of funding transportation projects with fuel taxes and fees is known to be unsustainable. What will transportation funding look like in 20 years?

Also worth considering, autonomous automobiles, or self-driving cars, are on the horizon. Many experts believe they will become prevalent within the next 20 years. If you can conveniently, and efficiently, summon flexible point-to-point transportation, would you even own a car? What does all this do to tab fees?

Creating facts on the ground, 20-year debts, pavement maintenance, tab fees are all very complicated issues. I ask you to weigh in. We need your wisdom.

Paul Greenlee is a member of the Washougal City Council. He can be reached at paul.greenlee@cityofwashougal.us.