Communitykeeps up pressure on road issues

Published on Thu, Jun 16, 2005 by ack Kintner

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Community keeps up pressure on road issues

By Jack Kintner

Concern over the inadequacies of Lincoln Road east of Shintaffer Road and emergency access issues arising from the closure of Drayton Harbor Road last winter prompted local residents to take the initiative last Thursday with Whatcom County officials for the third time in just over two weeks.

The meeting, held in the garage of the Semiahmoo fire hall, followed a standing-room-only May 25 meeting of the Birch Bay Steering Committee (BBSC) and a regular work session for the county council on June 7. Though unrelated, area road problems were discussed at some length at both earlier gatherings, and at both there was general agreement that Lincoln Road, with no shoulders and deep ditches along both sides, must be upgraded soon before a combination of rapidly increasing traffic congestion and physical deterioration makes what many called an already dangerous road virtually unusable.
But opinion seemed to be divided over Drayton Harbor Road at the earlier meetings, with just as many, including retiring Whatcom County Council member Sharon Roy, questioning the need for it to be open at all as the number of people favoring its repair.

This time, however, it was virtually unanimous among the 124 people at Thursday’s meeting that both projects should proceed as soon as possible. The meeting was the first sponsored by a new group of interested Semiahmoo residents who call themselves the Semiahmoo Political Action Group.

Whatcom County executive Pete Kremen, Whatcom County engineer Joe Rutan and most of the Blaine city council heard ominous warnings about a looming crisis in road access for the roughly 4,000 people that live in Birch Bay Village and the residential areas of Semiahmoo.

Retired civil engineer Bob Orgonas of Semiahmoo said that re-opening Drayton Harbor Road was an essential piece in the sequence of work in upgrading Lincoln Road.

“You’ll need that alternative access,” Orgonas said, “since an accident would close Lincoln Road, and when it’s being worked on and is down to one lane it will be even worse.”

Birch Bay resident and Birch Bay steering committee (BBSC) member Claudia Hollod said it was unacceptable for the county to postpone work on Lincoln Road any longer.

“It was originally set for 2003, then 2004, now 2008! We want it done as soon as possible,” Hollod said.

North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Services chief Tom Fields said that for him it was all about access.

“We have to get to these places and any delay has to be addressed, whether it’s due to a blocking train or inadequate roads,” Fields said.

Mike Kent of Birch Bay rose to say that, “We will have 1,300 to 1,600 new addresses in Birch Bay in the next year to year and a half. Growth is inevitable, but we have to be ready, and that includes roads.” Before sitting down, Kent went on to announce his candidacy for the Whatcom County Council seat being vacated by Roy.

Kremen announced that Drayton Harbor Road repairs have been moved up to a higher priority. However, aside from minor fixes such as what the county has done at Lincoln Road’s intersection with Harbor View, work is still a few years away.

The million dollar project to repair and re-open Drayton Harbor Road is now set for next summer, and the $5 million plus project for Lincoln Road after that, said Kremen. “The limiting factor is the permitting, the acquisition of houses and other things that have to be done in preparation for the work to proceed. We’re beginning that preliminary phase of the Lincoln Road project this year,” Kremen said.

County engineer Rutan and Blaine director of public works Steve Banham both said that lighting the Lincoln Road and Harbor View intersection might be accomplished by some sort of cooperative arrangement between the city of Blaine and Whatcom County.