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Tuesday, June 6, 2023
June 6, 2023

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Clark County 179th interchange project on bumpy path through Legislature

Money for improvement in House budget, but not in Senate version

By , Columbian staff writer

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct an error in the original version. The House budget included $86 million in funding for 179th Street interchange improvement.

One of Clark County’s most prominent transportation projects is on a bumpy path through the Washington Legislature.

Funding for the $50 million 179th Street interchange on Interstate 5 was not included in the Senate transportation committees’ proposed 2023-25 budget, released earlier this week, though $86 million was included for the project in the House budget.

Although the budgets are not final, it continues a trend started by the release of the governor’s budget, which slated the bulk of the project’s funding for the 2030s, increasing the likelihood that the project is delayed.

The budgets will go to the floor where floor amendments can be offered and the respective chambers will vote to pass them. After they’re passed, the bills will then go to conference committee where the two chambers will reach a compromise. 

The interchange improvements will replace signalized intersections with a yet-to-be-determined interchange design, make onramp and offramp enhancements and make the area more accessible to bicycles and pedestrians. The design phase was expected to begin this summer with construction scheduled to start in 2027.

The project is funded through the $16 billion Connecting Washington transportation and infrastructure package passed in 2015. The catalyst for the area’s growth and development came in 2019 when the Clark County Council lifted the urban holding designation from 2,220 acres near the I-5 interchange.

Funding for the interchange was omitted from the Senate committee’s budget in part because limited contractors and materials forced the committee to prioritize projects across the state and because of the urgency of the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project in Clark County, said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.

“It doesn’t mean these projects aren’t worthy or really important,” Liias said. “But as we sequence them, we really tried to use the lens of what has to be done immediately versus what reasonably can wait, even if it would be ideal to get it done earlier.”

The Northeast 179th Street interchange “doesn’t present the same risks to the economy that the failure of the bridge would reflect, and the federal funding opportunity is so critical,” he continued.

The interchange improvement is not an isolated project, rather, it is one of several transportation projects between Delfel Road and Northeast 50th Avenue designed to improve travel times and safety as the area around the road grows. Unlike the rest of the projects, the interchange improvement is under the purview of the state Department of Transportation.

The group of projects has raised the ire of nearby residents who say their concerns are not being taken into account.

Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy disagrees with Liias about the urgency of the project, saying that without the interchange improvements, the entire area will be frequently clogged with congestion.

“We have four developments growing right now, hundreds of homes,” he said. “We know that those homes are going to generate road trips and impact those secondary roads and then the interchange that exists.”

For now, the county is staying the course on the other development in the area, said Public Works Director Ken Lader.

“Right now, we aren’t adjusting our schedules because the budget hasn’t been finalized,” Lader said in a statement. “We know that even with potential budget-related delays, the interchange project will happen, and we need to continue moving forward with our capital projects in the area.”

Lader added that the projects in design for Delfel Road and Northeast 15th Avenue will help improve traffic flow through the interchange until it can be improved.

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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.