5 roundabouts in 3 miles. West Richland’s new $31M ‘game changer’ for traffic access
West Richland is about to spend $31.5 million to modernize Highway 224 — aka West Van Giesen Street — in a bid to tame traffic and bring jobs and sales tax revenue.
The 3-mile stretch of road will gain five roundabouts, center turn lanes, a multi-use path for bicyclists and pedestrians and bus stop pullouts, among other features.
It will set the stage for retailers and businesses to build on the city’s west side.
“It’s a game changer for West Richland,” said Roscoe Slade III, public works director.
The corridor serves one of the region’s fastest growing communities and an outlet for residential and apartment development.
West Richland, home to 5.5% of the 312,000 residents of Benton and Franklin counties, accounted for 11.5% of single-family home permits issued since 2018.
Road construction won’t begin for more than a year. However, residents will get a preview this summer when a $2 million project begins to extend water and sewer service to commercial properties.
Don’t cut the pavement
The utility work is funded by the Benton County Rural Capital Fund, which supports projects that support the economy.
Doing it now means all utilities will be in place when the 18-month highway construction project starts in fall 2024. The city expects to solicit contractors next summer.
All the vacant properties will have utilities and no one will have to dig up the new pavement, Slade said, noting that citizens and public works officials all hate when freshly built roads are ripped up for utilities.
Attracting business is the goal. Extending utilities and a modern transportation network is meant to beckon builders, particularly retail developers, to the growing bedroom community.
“The idea is to bring retails sales tax and jobs to West Richland,” Slade said.
The city will share details at its next open house in late June at Tapteal Elementary. Details will be announced on the city’s web page, westrichland.org.
Red Mountain interchange
The Highway 224 updates are rooted in a decades-long vision that called for a new interchange on Interstate 82 at Red Mountain to promote the commercial development of West Richland’s west side and in Benton City, increasingly the gateway to the Tri-Cities metro area.
It was turbo charged in 2015, when the Washington Legislature funded the interchange in Connecting Washington, a $16 billion transportation package. Connecting Washington is funded by an 11.9-cent increase in gasoline taxes, which has been in place since 2016.
The dream was dashed in 2019 when the Federal Highway Administration said there wasn’t enough traffic to warrant a new interchange. The feds are motivated by traffic volumes and not economic development concerns.
Officially, the interchange isn’t dead, just “shelved.”
The state Department of Transportation invited West Richland to consider using the money for road upgrades that would support job creation rather than solve congestion. The 224 project, which does both, is the result, said Mayor Brent Gerry.
The 2020 Legislature approved the change in vision, but the project languished during the COVID-10 pandemic. In 2022, West Richland cut a new deal with the state agency.
It took over managing design and engineering, with the state retaining responsibility for paying $30 million of the cost. The remaining $1.5 million is from the city, Benton County and federal sources.
The 2023 Legislature added $5.5 million to the budget.
Slade said the added money was needed to because of the rising cost of asphalt, rock and other equipment and because West Richland wanted to extend the multi-use path into existing neighborhoods.
Slade and Gerry both acknowledged five roundabouts within three miles is a lot of roundabouts. They will be constructed at Keene Road, Paradise Way, Belmont Boulevard, 62nd Avenue and Grosscup Boulevard.
West Richland recently removed the roundabout that served the Bombing Range and Keene road intersection for 20 years. It is replacing it with a traffic signal. Expanding the roundabout would have meant condemning a nearby home.
Gerry said he personally prefers signals because they can be timed.
The state, however, requires roundabouts, aka traffic circles. There’s a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t aspect, the mayor said.
“Roscoe Slade gets called a communist when he puts them in and he gets called a communist when he takes them out,” he said.
The Highway 224 upgrade, also called the Red Mountain Vicinity Improvement Project, is the second phase of the original 2015 Connecting Washington package. Benton City’s roundabout at Highways 224 and 225 at the city’s entrance was the first.
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