BATTLE GROUND — Imagine state Highway 502 is Battle Ground’s arm, reaching from the city to Interstate 5. The biceps of that arm are starting to bulge with the state’s $84 million widening project. And when the project is done next summer, city officials say they hope new development will paint the corridor like a sleeve of tattoos.
“This will give us another tool in trying to convince the business folks to look into the north (Clark) county,” Battle Ground Deputy Mayor Philip Johnson said, “where we have shovel-ready land, a workforce able to do the work and a more business-friendly climate than our friends in the southern part of the county.”
A strong connection to I-5 is vital for attracting businesses that rely on that access, Community Development Director Erin Erdman said. Keeping the arm metaphor in mind, the project is akin to strengthening Battle Ground’s grip on the lightning rod of development that is the I-5 corridor.
“It’s one step in the right direction to better serve our industrial area. We can also see it open up development to the west,” Erdman said. “It’s going to take a while for that to happen, but this will at least get more looks at the property.”
Construction adding new lanes to Highway 502 started in July 2012, and Washington State Department of Transportation officials say they hope to have traffic moving in two lanes in both directions by the end of next summer.
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“They’ve done the bulk of the work,” WSDOT spokesman Bart Treece said. “We should be on or under budget for costs.”
The project has been more than 16 years in the making, with the state’s first community outreach coming in 1999.
Traffic on the highway, according to WSDOT, is expected to double in the next 20 years. That should come as no surprise, with Battle Ground’s population growing and commercial development surging.
But does bigger mean better?
“There are those that think Battle Ground is growing too much. You always have both sides,” Mayor Shane Bowman said. “We are the hub of north county, and we’re going to continue to grow.”
And though the wider highway would seem to make it easier for residents to get to jobs elsewhere, the goal is to shorten the length of their commutes.
“We have to look at economic priorities. What are we doing to keep living-wage jobs in town so there’s not just a stream of lights leaving town every day?” Bowman said. “We hope having easier access can attract businesses that need that access — that they come in there because of that.”
Though most of the land along 502 lies outside city limits, the city has a natural interest in seeing development all along the highway.
Erdman said the city recently annexed an island east of Northeast 92nd Avenue, and there is a proposal to expand the city limits to halfway between 92nd and 82nd.
“Our focus, when we did the urban growth work, was to the west due to this widening project,” she said.
On-road work recently went into a partial hibernation, as working during the wet season causes undue costs, WSDOT project engineer Susan Fell said. So it will be a sunny day next summer when traffic starts to move faster. And, with any luck, it will start moving into the city, as well.
“It’ll be nice when it’s done,” Bowman said.