LA CENTER — Residents gathered Monday night to find out whether $32 million in road upgrades, paid for without a single taxpayer dime, was too good to be true.
It was standing room only at the La Center Community Center as details of impending construction of the Interstate 5 and La Center Road interchange were revealed. The project presents a major long-term change to Exit 16, as well as potential short-term headaches during construction.
“I imagine it’s going to be better than last week in Woodland,” said Marc Butorac, senior principal of the Kittleson & Associates engineering firm, which is overseeing the project. His comment referenced last week’s landslide that closed northbound lanes of I-5 near Woodland.
The interchange upgrade will serve La Center to the east and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s casino to the west, bringing in a new bridge, new roundabouts, road realignments and new onramps and offramps.
Butorac said the whole project — including possible cost overruns — will be privately paid for by the Cowlitz tribe and the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, financial backers of the casino.
Construction is expected to start early next year when weather allows, and to wrap up in spring 2017 to coincide with the casino’s planned opening, Butorac said.
However, the Clark County council isn’t done putting up roadblocks to the project.
At its Tuesday meeting, the council unanimously approved a resolution opposing the casino, saying its proposed wastewater injection well — which will pump 400,000 gallons of treated wastewater into the ground per day — violates state laws and county codes. The resolution also disallows the realignment of Northwest 31st Avenue and 319th Street, roads west of I-5 on federal land held in trust for the Cowlitz tribe.
“The fact that (those roads lie) on what has been recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as an Indian reservation does not change that the county owns that property,” deputy prosecutor Christine Cook said. “And the county need not agree with what another jurisdiction wants to do with the county’s property.”
Cowlitz officials say the resolution will have no binding impact on the tribe’s plans.
La Center Mayor Jim Irish said the upgrades are taking place almost entirely on tribal reservation land and within city limits, which stretch to the interstate. He added that the tribe has worked with the city to address concerns throughout the process.
Along with 319th Street and 31st Avenue, Northwest Paradise Park Road is set to be realigned. Roundabouts will be added on both sides of the new bridge over I-5 and at the intersection of 319th and 31st.
Butorac said the county’s position comes down to a “difference of opinion,” and the project will be moving forward.
Before a crowd of more than 200 area residents, he answered questions about the project Monday night that weren’t combative or overly oppositional, though one resident remarked that whatever is built, “we’re stuck with it.”
“It is $32 million of concrete, so yes,” Butorac said.
There were questions about construction length and delays, and whether the new roundabouts will be different from those at Woodland’s northern I-5 exit. The roundabouts will have a more updated design, Butorac said.