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Residents to pave Crawford Road

"About 30 property owners living and doing business along Crawford Road will spend $112,000 of their own money this spring to hire Kreig Construction to pave the heavily potholed, gravel road, even though it is used as a public through road and was designated two years ago as the center of all new light industrial development on South Whidbey.In essence, the Crawford Road Association is holding off $2.2 million in road work Island County would need to spend to bring the road up to public arterial status. Although paving the road has been listed on the county's six-year road plan for several years in a row, the project has consistently held the lowest priority position on the list.Jim Cooley, president of the Crawford Road Association, said he and other road association members are tired of waiting for the county to improve the road. He said the road's potholes and ruts -- caused by heavy trucks, thrill-seeking drivers, and water erosion -- have taken a heavy toll on property owners' cars and driving peace of mind.It's a crummy, bumpy, muddy, slimy road, he said. Though the road is privately owned, it has been legal for the public to use it as a through road between Brooks Hill Road and Highway 525 since Bob Porter built it during the mid-1960s. To keep the public off a private road, road owners must post and gate the road within 10 years of its construction. That was not done on Crawford Road.Porter said this week that he started the road when he began building his Porter Field airport. Using a bulldozer, he cut the road in short sections as he gained right-of-way from property owners along its path. He maintained the road for more than two decades, using his bulldozer to grade it every spring and fall. He said he is surprised that Island County has not yet assumed ownership of the road and paved it, since the taxes paid by property owners along the road are significant. No longer a Crawford Road property owner since selling most of Porter Field two years ago, Porter said he is pleased to hear someone will finally pave the road.Maybe my cars will last longer, he said.Jim Cooley and the Road Association have tried to get Island County interested in participating in the road paving, even on a small scale. With 35 of 52 Crawford Road property owners helping fund the paving, Cooley said the association is still $12,000 short of paving funds, an amount he believes the county could and should contribute.But county road engineer Lew Legat said there is no money coming from his department. Spending an estimated $2.2 million to bring the road up to public thoroughfare standards would cost more than the county can afford, and partial financial participation -- with the liability that entails -- is not an option. Legat said he is not even sure if the road will remain in the six-year road plan.If Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton has anything to say about it, it will. On Monday, Shelton said the county should eventually take ownership of the entire road, especially since it designated the Porter Field property and acreage surrounding it as a light industrial zone in the county's new comprehensive land use plan. The county already owns about a half-mile-long paved stretch of Crawford Road that stretches from Brooks Hill Road almost to the entrance of Porter Field.Also boosting the road's standing for Shelton is the fact that the commissioners designated Porter Field and the county's other airports as critical transportation links. Because of those factors and the road's placement between Brooks Hill Road and Highway 525, Crawford Road is an important transportation link that many of his constituents believe the county should improve and maintain.Frankly, I'm all in favor of that, Shelton said.The fact remains, however, that Island County will take no responsibility for the road now. Nor will the owners of the largest property along the road, Porter Field. Steve Gutzmer, a member of a group of pilots who purchased the field's runway and most of the land surrounding it, said the private airport will not pay for a portion of the paving. So, the paving will stop short of the field, leaving it on the only remaining gravel stretch by early summer.Gutzmer, who lives on Crawford Road and contributes $300 in annual dues to the Road Association as an individual, said he still looks forward to a day when the paving reaches the airport. He said he and his partners would eventually like to see the airport used as an emergency medical heliport. A paved road would make it realistic for ambulances to bring trauma patients to the field.Which is something we want to do, he said.The road's biggest traffic magnet and biggest contributor to the paving effort, Asli Arts, will reap benefits once the road is covered with asphalt. Speaking for company owner Marty Behr, Asli Arts information technologist John Watts said the 25 employees of the light manufacturing businesses look forward to driving a smooth road, as do UPS drivers and the large container trucks that deliver the business' supplies from the Port of Seattle. It will be wonderful driving into work, he said.But along with the benefits of pavement come some potential problems. Jim Cooley said the road is already a haven for drunk and reckless drivers, drug dealers, and anyone else who wants to drive between the Bayview and Langley areas away from the watchful eye of law enforcement. Even though the road is rough, Cooley said, it is not unusual for a wild driver with a four-wheel drive vehicle to tear down the road in excess of 50 mph. For safety's sake, the association will install speed bumps along the road and post a low speed limit.Making all this worse is the fact that traffic volumes only promise to increase in coming years. Unity of Whidbey plans to build a church on the road near Highway 525 in the near future, while some of the properties on the road are being subdivided into residential and industrial plots. Cooley said he believes the paving will hold out far better than the grading the association has done in the past. But at some point, he said, the road will probably need to be publicly owned. "

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