County council approves 2012 road construction program

Published on Thu, Oct 20, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Here’s an early version of my story about the Whatcom County Council approving the county's 2012 road construction program.

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. Whatcom County Public Works is required by state law to complete a road construction plan that outlines funding sources for construction projects expected to take multiple years to complete.

Though concrete 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 in project costs will come form the state.

County council member Bill Knutzen agreed with Mann that the estimated project costs are high, but said the benefits can be worth the money. He said the county has to pay to make sure its residents are getting the best infrastructure services possible.

“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 for funding individual projects within the plan once they come before the council’s finance and administrative services committee.

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 that winds along the bay. 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 so far.


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