County council OKs 2012 road construction program

Published on Wed, Oct 26, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The Whatcom County Council has approved the county’s 2012 road construction program, and four projects in the Birch Bay area have topped the list.

At its October 11 meeting, the council approved the program 6-1, with council member Ken Mann opposed. The program includes minor upgrades to Birch Bay-Lynden Road, the Birch Bay Berm project and two intersection improvements on Birch Bay-Lynden: one at Portal Way and one at Blaine Road.

The council’s approval of the 2012 program does not mean the projects described within will be completed or even started next year. State law requires the county to complete a road construction plan that outlines funding sources for construction projects expected to take multiple years to complete.

Though final costs for the projects have yet to be nailed down, Mann thought the intersection improvements in the program, which included those in the Birch Bay area, were not justified. Mann said he thinks the cost are disproportionate to the good the improvements will do.

“I don’t like the price tags on these things,” Mann said.

The proposed road construction at Birch Bay-Lynden Road and Portal Way, estimated to cost $3.5 million, would improve signalization at the intersection, widen the section of Birch Bay-Lynden from 20 to 24 feet and level the railroad crossing. The county estimates $750,000 will come from the state.

County council member Bill Knutzen agreed that the estimated project costs are high, but said the benefits can be worth the money.

“By being a responsible builder, costs go up,” Knutzen said. “We’re going to have to maintain these roads whether we like it or not.”

County council member Tony Larson also agreed with Mann’s concerns about the project price tags, but said the county public works department needs to have a list of construction projects in place in order to plan effectively. However, Larson said just because he voted to approve the program does not mean he’ll vote to fund individual projects.

The construction program also included the Birch Bay Berm project, which would construct a walking and biking trail on the west side of Birch Bay Drive. The project is estimated to cost $7.1 million, and construction could start as early as 2014.

The county is also planning a $4 million upgrade to the intersection of Birch Bay-Lynden and Blaine roads. The plan calls for either a new signal or roundabout, and the county has spent about $27,000 in surveying and right-of-way planning.