Better access to Blaine a priority

Published on Thu, Mar 15, 2001 by Soren Velice

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Better access to Blaine a priority

By Soren Velice

Blaine’s lack of southbound exits was a major concern at a town meeting hosted by Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic to get Blaine’s voice into the mix of agencies proposing to build a new U.S. Customs facility.

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) gave city planners an early look at a planned expansion of the border facility; improvements would encroach on the current southbound off-ramp, so GSA drew up two alternatives to mitigate the effects.

“They presented two scenarios,” Tomsic said. “The first, option 1A, is to bring people in the same way they do now coming south. You have to make a quick decision to go to Blaine’s city center. The difference the proposal would make is to shorten the distance for that decision.” He added this could be a disadvantage for people who aren’t familiar with the town.

The other option GSA drew up would eliminate the current off-ramp and build an interchange at Third Street between G and H. “The main difference between the proposals is whether you want to dump traffic downtown or on Third,” Martin Conyac commented. “Maybe we need to tell them there’s another option,” Pam Christianson said.

Doug Connelly suggested one such alternative. “It seems to me the city would be better servedby putting an exit at mile 274,” he said. There is currently a northbound exit at milepost 274, but no southbound interchange.
Ed Magner agreed with Connelly, adding that keeping the current off ramp and adding a new one is worth looking at. “Third Street is still pretty close,” he said. “This would give more time to decide to go into town. If we could get more funding for that out of this deal, that might give more benefit for our buck.

People at the meeting expressed many other concerns about potential impacts of the GSA plan. “It’s pretty quiet by (Peace Arch) park,” Rod Schafer said. “But with people doing shift work, there’s going to be traffic all hours of the day.”

Other discussions concerned traffic impacts, stormwater runoff, effects on residents’ views, bicycle and pedestrian traffic and staffing. “Wouldn’t we be better served to hire more people than build a new building?” Christianson asked, echoed by several other attendees.

The most lively discussion surrounded funding for a new off-ramp, as GSA will only fund the customs facility improvements; Blaine and the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) would have to seek federal funding for a new interchange. “Unless we can yell awful loud ‘poor me,’ we won’t get the DOT to put in an off ramp at Third or 274th,” councilman Dieter Schugt said. “I agree,” Tomsic said. “Neither of those will get done without federal money.”

As the attendees generated a list of 16 such questions and concerns,Conyac pointed out GSA is not likely to address every one equally. “I would think the chance of them addressing every one of them is quite slim,” he said, “so it would be in our best interest to prioritize the list.”

“I don’t know if one is more important than the others,” Tomsic replied. He said the list was a good way for the city to express its concerns to GSA. “Maybe we need to let them have their meeting and get our questions answered then do this again,” he said.

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