Lawmakers push for early construction at interchange

Clark County will request timetable for funding the 179th street project be moved to front burner

Jollie's restaurant
Courtesy of Jollies’ Restaurant and Lounge

Collaboration between Clark County and Washington state transportation planners this summer will likely bring proposed construction of a new $50-million interchange at 179th Street and Interstate 5 back to the front burner.

The latest statewide transportation budget has the project on a priority list, but design and engineering funding won’t be available until 2023 with construction eight years away in 2025.

The 179th Street overpass dates from the 1960s and does not meet earthquake safety or modern design standards. Its two-lane underpass is a traffic bottle neck to the nearby Clark County Fairgrounds and to the county-owned Sunlight Supply Amphitheater.

Clark County Councilor Julie Olson, who represents the area, said that in the upcoming legislative session, the county will request that the funding timetable be moved up.

“We are working with WSDOT (Washington Department of Transportation) on practical design options and hope that our proactive work will help when we make requests for accelerating funding of the interchange,” Olson said in a written response to questions.

To that end, county and state planners formed an “infrastructure partnership” allowing the county to pay for a regional WSDOT engineering team to develop a traffic management plan for the area around the interchange. The county earmarked $232,000 for the project. So far, $5,000 has been spent on preliminary planning.

Casey Liles, WSDOT regional project development engineer, said the collaboration has gone well and resulted in a proposed four-phase plan to address related traffic issues.

“This is not a simple project,” Liles said. “The hope is that everyone sees that we are working well together.”

The resulting Three Creeks Infrastructure Plan, with an estimated cost of about $18 million, calls for realignment of Union Road and 10th Avenue access to 179th Street; construction of new 179th Street intersections at Northeast 15th Avenue and Delfel Road; and construction of a new bridge linking Northeast 15th to I-5 to the north.

“The county asked us to be at the table, so we put together a project team to look at what the (transportation) needs are in that area,” Liles said. He said the work continues.

Lance Killian, president of privately owned Vancouver-based development firm, Killian Pacific, welcomes the collaboration.

“The 179th area is the southern gateway to the Discovery Corridor (north along I-5), and as such has been identified as a priority area for job creation in Southwest Washington for the present and future,” Killian said in a written statement. “Infrastructure has been an impediment to economic development. With Clark County’s efforts and state transportation (interchange) funding there is a resolution forthcoming.”

Killian Pacific has a lot riding on the transportation upgrade.

The firm has been buying real estate in the area starting more than 10 years ago and now owns 125 acres north and south of 179th with an eye toward significant development. The company’s recent purchase of the 3.25-acre Jollie’s Restaurant & Lounge property at the southeast corner of the 179th/I-5 intersection adds a key parcel to its holdings.

Ultimately, Olson said, local money for road improvements around the 179th interchange likely will come from a combination of traffic impact fees (paid by developers), grants, road funds and possible bonding, depending on the timing.

Susan Wilson, Clark County Public Works program manager, said the county’s efforts have been aimed at moving the interchange project forward by looking at how capacity on connecting roads could be expanded.

“WSDOT is working as our consultant on the entire project but they will build the interchange while the county will build the connecting local roads,” Wilson said.

However, Washington State Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, remains cautious regarding changes in the 179th project timetable.

“This will be a short legislative session where committee chairs will be reluctant to make big changes to funding budgets or calendars,” Rivers said. “We will push for a change but I can’t make a promise that something will happen. That’s not to say that there might be some horse-trading.”

Nelson Holmberg, vice president of innovation at the Port of Ridgefield, said the port is among many public and private entities that want to see work started on a new interchange.

“The other four interchanges going north on I-5 in Clark County already have been improved,” Holmberg said. “We have tenants in the port district that want the 179th Street project completed. We know there are challenges with the (state’s) capital budget, but we expect to try again in the next Legislature session to get this under way,” he said.

The port is among 28 members of the Clark County Transportation Alliance advocating for road projects throughout the county. In its 2017 policy statement the alliance called for implementation of financing innovations to allow early construction at 179th.

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