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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Feb. 28, 2024

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Clark County Council gives 179th Street plan green light

Project will upgrade two-lane road between Delfel Road, 50th Avenue

By , Columbian staff writer
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At the end of a two-hour public hearing, with roughly 20 public comments and dozens in attendance, the Clark County Council approved the 179th Street Access Management and Circulation Plan on Tuesday night.
At the end of a two-hour public hearing, with roughly 20 public comments and dozens in attendance, the Clark County Council approved the 179th Street Access Management and Circulation Plan on Tuesday night. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

At the end of a two-hour public hearing, with roughly 20 public comments and dozens in attendance, the Clark County Council approved the 179th Street Access Management and Circulation Plan on Tuesday night.

The vote was 3-1. Councilor Sue Marshall opposed the plan, and Councilor Michelle Belkot was not in attendance.

The plan is a set of projects along the 179th Street corridor between Northeast Delfel Road and 50th Avenue aimed at improving travel times and safety as the surrounding area develops. Construction varies depending on the project but could start as late as 2028.

While the road projects continue to go through the planning and permitting phase, development in the area is already underway and further straining the rural, mostly two-lane road with no sidewalks or bike lanes.

When fully built, the roadway will be widened to two travel lanes in each direction, with a center turn lane or median, sidewalks and bike lanes. The plan also includes a handful of roundabouts, which — although they provide an often-safer, continuous flow of traffic through intersections — are unpopular. The estimated cost of the projects is $83 million, up from $67 million in 2019.

“We’re happy that council approved the plan,” said Public Works Director Ken Lader in a statement. “Approval will result in a safer, more efficient road system in the area as it develops. It is also rewarding for staff who worked tirelessly to bring the best plan possible to the community and to council.”

The plan has drawn the ire of nearby residents who are concerned about their properties being affected by surface street changes, development occurring before the roadway upgrades and an overall shift away from the rural lifestyle that attracted some people to the area.

Background

In 2019, the county council lifted the urban holding designation from 2,220 acres near the Interstate 5 interchange at 179th Street, allowing for more development along the corridor.

After the area was brought into the city of Vancouver’s urban growth area in 2007, an urban holding was put in place to halt development because of a lack of infrastructure, said Community Planning Director Oliver Orjiako. It was lifted because, according to Columbian archives, the area around 179th Street was the last large parcel where development could occur under Clark County’s comprehensive plan.

A consultant found that developing the land in the urban holding would add 4,815 housing units and 2,850 jobs and generate an initial $188 million in taxes, with $23 million annually in ongoing tax revenue.

As part of the initial developer agreements when the urban holding was lifted, 1,222 single-family residences and a 500-student elementary school were approved.

In February 2022 the planning commission voted to recommend that the county council approve the management and circulation plan. However, in June of that year, the council directed staff to revisit and redouble its public outreach efforts after residents told the council they had been left out of the notification process.

Ahead of the council meeting on Tuesday, county staff hosted four listening sessions with residents, though they stated upfront that the sessions were unlikely to substantially change the project.

Pause on development

The most frequent request during the public comment period was for the county to put a pause on development until the roadway projects could catch up, arguing that the county is out of concurrency, a state law that requires that the county balances the needs of the near future with capacity needs and growth in the area.

Its technical language requires that “improvements or strategies are in place at the time of development, or that a financial commitment is in place to complete the improvements or strategies within six years.”

The two-lane, rural road is already overburdened, and with significant development already underway, that problem will be exacerbated, some residents said.

The concerns drew the attention of Councilor Glen Yung at the hearing.

“At what level of failure of service do we take a look at the situation and look at a potential moratorium,” Yung asked county staff. “And I hate to do that because housing is so needed in our county, we have such a shortage, however, at some point, at a failure, we have to take a look at that.”

County staff responded by saying that the road is not at a point of failure, according to the Regional Transportation Council’s congestion monitoring program, and that county staff anticipates that concurrency will continue to be met throughout construction.

“There’s no justification for a moratorium as far as the conditions that are occurring in the corridor,” Lader said. “The road is not in the best shape for the amount of activity, but based on our calculations, we don’t have a reason to impose a moratorium.”

Marshall, who voted against approving the plan, said the lack of a master plan is a cautionary tale as Clark County updates its Comprehensive Growth Management Plan.

“My concern is that if we adopt this now, when do we talk about any kind of master planning? When does that occur?” Marshall asked county staff. “How do we mitigate for some of the lack of planning that occurred? When? How can we assure that that happens?”

“The time for master planning would have been prior to the lifting of the urban holding,” Orjiako said later in the hearing. He added that with developer agreements in place pausing could put a dent in the funding.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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