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Property owners oppose widening of Bayview Road
A small amount of grumbling from January over a proposed Bayview Road widening project turned into a loud shout of "No" Wednesday.
Just days after Island County placed stakes on private property along the road to mark the extent of new pavement boundaries and a new public right of way, about 50 people showed up for a hastily called evening meeting at Bayview Hall to voice their opposition of the project -- opposition that could cause the county to abandon it entirely.
Though the county's engineering department hosted a workshop in January to describe the project to those living along the road, it did not approach Wednesday's meeting in terms of turnout nor outright opposition.
Encouraging those at the meeting to question the necessity of the road widening was Linda Moore, an attorney who works for Goosefoot Community Fund. The non-profit has an interest in the project in that properties it owns -- including the Bayview Cash Store -- will be impacted by the work.
Moore told her audience that while the county's intention to add paved shoulders to the road would be a safety boon for walkers and bicyclists, plans to widen traffic lanes will only increase the speed and volume of traffic. Comparing the road's planned 32-36-foot length to Highway 525, she said South Whidbey does not need a "third runway" for traffic.
Moore was backed by engineer Mark Buehrer. Buehrer, who has worked for Goosefoot on a number of its projects, said the county's plan to widen the road will make it less safe because drivers tend to drive faster when they have more room.
"You are encouraging behavior on Bayview you don't want to encourage," he said.
Property owners asked questions and made statements throughout the two-and-a-half-hour meeting. No one spoke unequivocally in support of the $2 million project, which is expected to begin in summer 2004. Many complained that the additional right-of-way space the county will take out of their property will take down old trees and fences, and possibly make some structures and septic fields unusable.
Perhaps with the most at stake at the meeting were Matthew Swett and Sarah Birger. The couple own a home near the intersection of Bayview and Meinhold Road, a home that is already within 10 feet of the road. If the road is widened, that margin -- between the pavement and their front door -- will be reduced to four feet.
The couple has asked the county to move their home if it goes ahead with the project, but those requests have been turned down, they said. Even so, they remain on the fence when it comes to improving the road. They say they will refuse to sell a right-of-way to the county if it does not make some concession to protect their home from the traffic that would be driving within feet of their door. But they also recognize that Bayview Road -- which has narrow or non-existent shoulders in many places -- is unsafe for bicyclists and pedestrians.
"I've had to dive (for the ditch) myself," said Birger, who regularly walks the road.
Also at the meeting was Randy Brackett, the lead county engineer on the Bayview Road project. Pushed at the meeting to propose some change that could reduce the width of the proposed project, he said plans and engineering are "90 percent done" and cannot be modified to any great extent. To do so would be to risk the loss of $1.5 million in state transportation funds for the project. If the road is not widened largely as planned, the county would have to give that money back.
Defending the project during the half hour he had to speak to the gathering, Brackett challenged Moore's assertion that the proposed project should be made to look like what she said was a narrower section of of Bayview and Brooks Hill Road near Langley. That section of road has paved shoulders. Speaking after the meeting, Brackett said that portion of road is 36 feet wide -- the same width as that of a portion of the proposed project. Other portions of the widening will be 32 feet wide.
None of that may matter if the mood of the crowd at Bayview Hall is sustained over the coming weeks. At the meeting, Brackett said if a majority or all of the property owners along the road objected to the point at which they would refuse to sell right-of-ways to the county, the Island County Board of Commissioners might terminate the project.
"Fifty-two might change things," he said, referring to the number of property owners who would be affected by the widening project.
The public still has one more official opportunity to comment on the project. The county will hold a workshop concerning the road widening sometime in June. A date for the workshop has yet to be set.