I-912 puts SR 502 widening on the fence

Battle Ground emphasizes the need for an improved SR 502 to accommodate projected growth

A long list of transportation projects in Clark County were given the green light through the state’s transportation budget last March. But the introduction of Initiative 912 has the projects braking for the possibility of a standstill should the measure pass. One of the larger projects in question is the widening of State Route 502 from Interstate 5 to Battle Ground. About $50 million of the $244 million Clark County received from the $8.5 billion transportation budget passed by the 2005 legislature is dedicated to completing the project. Plans include widening SR 502 between Battle Ground and I-5 from two to four lanes.

The 2003 "nickel package" contributed $15 million to the widening project for preliminary design and right of way acquisition. The 9.5 cent gas tax initiated this year, which could be repealed if I-912 is approved by voters, would complete funding for the $65 million widening. I-912 would eliminate the 3-cents-a-gallon tax increase that went into effect July 1 and prevent the scheduled increases of 3 cents next year, 2 cents in 2007 and 1.5 cents in 2008.

A separate, but interconnected, project is the $35 million SR 502 interchange and extension funded by the nickel package, which extends SR 502 – 219th street – to I-5 and includes an interchange. The review of the environmental assessment of the project is complete and construction is expected to begin in 2007.

If the funding remains in place, the SR 502 widening project could begin construction in 2010.

Battle Ground’s population is about 15,000 today, nearly triple what it was in the mid 1990s. And city officials expect it to grow by 1,000 people each year for the foreseeable future. And 20 years out, Battle Ground expects to have 32,000 residents with 14,000 jobs in the city, up from 2,000 jobs today.

The city says a two-lane SR 502 into the city cannot accommodate their aggressive plans.

"The residential segment will continue to grow regardless of whether there is widening out to the new interchange," said City Manager Eric Holmes. "But for us to implement a reasonable and successful strategy for economic development to grow a more diverse and stable local economy, that project is key."

The Washington State Department of Transportation said the project provides congestion relief and improves safety on the road.

"SR 502 in general is a high-accident corridor, and it will address the safety issues along the corridor,"
said Chris Tams, WDOT area engineer. "It will also increase mobility. The future models show additional lanes are needed in order to keep up with growth in that area."

Several commercial projects are already underway or are planned in Battle Ground, including a three-story hotel and restaurant with retail space, an indoor motocross sports center and a master-planned commercial/residential/retail development. And an eight-screen cinema was recently completed at the Gardner Center development, where additional retail and commercial space is expected to be constructed.

Without the project, Holmes said continued congestion could stymie development.

"Economic investment that might otherwise come to the city could be diverted to another location because of the congestion on SR 502," he said.

The safety of the corridor will remain an issue, and Holmes points to not being able to use to the fullest extent of the investment the new interchange at I-5. The city’s first direct access to I-5 will feed drivers directly onto the two-lane 502.

I-912 supporters say this is the wrong time to contribute to the rising cost of fuel and that more needs to be done to reform transportation funding.

I-912 has Battle Ground fearing the funding for the widening will disappear. While the $50 million needed to complete the project pales in comparison to the billions of dollars the gas tax funded, the price tag is staggering for the city.

"Given the size, we would likely be back talking to the legislature in the future," said Holmes if the initiative passes. "There are no other tools for us to do something like that."