Birch Bay Drive project introduced for county action

Published on Wed, Oct 23, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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After some minor design changes, the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility project has finally gained support from property owners – a fact that pleased Whatcom County Council members. 

Whatcom County Public Works project manager Roland Middleton, delivered a report to the council’s public works, health and safety committee on October 22. 

Council members voted unanimously to approve the introduction of the county’s 2014 annual road construction program, which includes the preliminary phases of the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility project, for future action. A public hearing on the program is scheduled for November 12.

“There has been more discussion surrounding this project than any other project in the history of Whatcom County,” Middleton said.

Renowned hydrogeological engineer Wolf Bauer first recommended a beach restoration and flood control project when he analyzed the Birch Bay shoreline in 1975. In 1986 a portion of the project was constructed, and the continuation of the project has been an ongoing request of the community ever since. The request was included in the 2004 Birch Bay Subarea Plan as one of the top projects for the area, and was formally adopted into the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan.

Middleton presented two new cross-section designs that were developed in response to concerns expressed by Birch Bay Drive property owners. The earlier designs featured multiple bike paths, sidewalks on both sides of the road, landscaping trees and other improvements. Under the new designs, no sidewalks or other road improvements will be built on the east side of the road, and no new trees will be planted on the berm.

“We’re going to preserve existing trees wherever possible, and what we’ve done on some of this design work is shift the road over so that we’re not encroaching into the trees,” he said.

Middleton said a major goal of the project is to minimize disruption to local homes and businesses, both in the design of the project and during its construction.

“For a lot of those businesses, if you shut them down for a month in the summer you shut them down forever,” he said. “We’re going to work with the people there to make sure our construction scheduling doesn’t conflict with business too much.”

One business in particular presents a challenge to the project design because it’s on the west of the road.

“The Via Birch Bay café is located right where the beach berm would go, so as long as that structure is there, we’re going to have to design around it,” Middleton said. “We’re going to taper down the berm on either side of it to make sure that there’s no impact to that business.”

The total estimated project cost is $11.45 million, and funding is expected to come from federal and local sources. Everett-based engineering firm Reid Middleton Inc. (no relation to Roland) is designing the project. The preliminary design phase of the project is expected to continue through 2015, and construction is expected to begin in 2016.

“As soon as you approve expenditures, we’ll begin working with the firm we selected to begin the scope of work,” Middleton told council members. “We want to get this thing built and done.”

Project managers sought funding for the undergrounding of utility lines along Birch Bay Drive, a major goal of the project, through the state’s Public Works Trust Fund but were denied funding because state legislators voted to permanently redirect those funds.

Middleton said the utility lines along Birch Bay Drive, around 40 years old, are expected to begin failing in five to 10 years, and when they do state funding will become available to put them underground.

To see the new cross-section designs and to learn more about the project, visit the project page on the county’s public works website at tinyurl.com/birchbayproject.