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News / Life / Clark County Life

Planning commission split, residents object to 99th Street extension

By Jake Thomas, Columbian political reporter
Published: October 31, 2018, 6:05am
4 Photos
An informational sign is posted near county property at the end of Northeast 99th Street near Curtin Creek.
An informational sign is posted near county property at the end of Northeast 99th Street near Curtin Creek. Amanda Cowan/The Columbian Photo Gallery

A proposal to modify plans for a new road aimed at relieving congestion and connecting Northeast 99th Street to Northeast 72nd Avenue is drawing objections from nearby residents and has split an advisory group over whether to recommend the project.

The Clark County Council will hear the proposal in December.

The county has planned to extend Northeast 99th Street since 1996, when it added it to its Arterial Atlas. The impetus for the connection is to create better east-west circulation and relieve congestion on Northeast 119th Street, Northeast 87th Street and Padden Parkway, according to a county staff report.

Gary Albrecht, a county planner, pointed out that in 2009, the then-county commission created a study to look at alternatives for extending Northeast 99th Street from Northeast 87th Avenue to Northeast 72nd Avenue and then across Interstate 205 to Northeast St. Johns Road.

“This isn’t a new thing,” said Albrecht. “The county has had a need for east-west connections.”

The extension involves connecting two sections of Northeast 99th street by building a bridge across Curtin Creek that would improve access to Northeast 72nd Avenue. The county’s plan initially intended to cross a section of railroad. But in 2018, the Washington Utility Transportation Commission, citing safety concerns, contacted the county, advising against crossing the railroad.

The county hired HDR Engineering to come up with alternatives. Out of the alternatives presented, county staff recommended pursuing “Alternative F,” which involved extending Northeast 99th Street across Curtin Creek but would curve to the south to miss the railroad. According to a staff report, this alternative could possibly displace one home and one business.

The county also considered alternatives that involved underpasses and overpasses involving the rail line, which were the costliest options. Another alternative offered by HDR Engineering, which would cost an estimated $14.7 million, would directly connect the stretches of Northeast 99th Street across Curtin Creek. However, it would require “considerable environmental site mitigation” and could displace eight homes and one business. Alternative F would cost $15.9 million.

Residents who live near the planned extension are skeptical of the project. During an Aug. 16 meeting of the Clark County Planning Commission, many residents expressed concern about how the extension could bring an increase in traffic, adversely affect their property, harm air quality and reduce open space. They also questioned the necessity of the extension.

Two members of the Clark County Planning Commission, Richard Bender and Ron Barca, voted against it but gave no reasons for their votes. The commission (with two of its seven members absent) still voted 3-2 to recommend changes to the Arterial Atlas.

Barca said that the county’s original plan for the extension would have the least amount of impact to the neighborhood. He said that the number of trips currently made on the railroad is relatively small and any safety impacts could be mitigated in other ways.

“I think changing it tells all the citizens in the neighborhood that this is our plan for now, but why wouldn’t we change it again?” he said.

“My issue is they are going to build a bridge over Curtin Creek in two small neighborhoods and essentially have no outlet for the commercial traffic to go,” Steve Dahl, who has lived in the Sunnyside neighborhood for 11 years, told The Columbian.

Judy Bumbarger-Enright, chair of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, said that the association has not taken a stance on the project. But, speaking for herself, she did see some benefits of the project.

“As we get all this new housing there aren’t many outlets, and it’s difficult to get from one place to another,” she said.

Albrecht said that there’s no firm timeline for the new connection to be built.

“We’re just putting a line on the map,” he said. “That’s all we’re doing.”

Columbian political reporter