Funding sought for Central Whidbey highway bypass

Island County will pursue roughly $7 million in federal grant money to underwrite construction of the so-called Race Road Bypass, said Connie Bowers, the assistant county engineer, during a recent Board of Island County Commissioners work session.

The 1.5-mile road will link Race Road and Houston Road on Central Whidbey, ensuring that north-south traffic can flow even if Highway 525 is blocked. That stretch of Highways 525/20, which form the island’s north-south traffic artery, is among the only places where there is no route around a blockage.

The county will seek federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (or TIGER) money that it hopes will pay the road’s entire construction cost, Bowers said. Though the funds usually go toward large, urban multi-agency projects, a certain portion are set aside for rural projects, she said.

Buying up a 60-foot-wide right-of-way along the new road’s route will cost an additional estimated $785,000, raised in 2009 and 2014 through grant funding and Surface Transportation Program funds, Bowers said. The county has already bought 74 percent of the right of way and has budgeted $220,000 to buy right-of-way for the road this year, she said.

Rather than running straight between Race and Houston Roads, the new road will have several curves, both to avoid wetlands and to discourage speeding, Bowers said. At its northern end, it will lie on the route of Kempton Place, a private road that runs southward starting across from the Race Road firehouse. It could be finished as early as next year, depending on whether permits and rights-of-way can be obtained.

Plans have been underway to build the road since at least 2012. The need for such a road was demonstrated most recently in September 2015, when a fatal collision on that stretch of Highway 525 tied up traffic for hours. Some emergency vehicles were unable to respond to other calls, and access to Whidbey General Hospital from the south was cut off.

Another location along Highways 525/20 where there are no alternative routes is the stretch between Deception Pass bridge and Ducken Road, Bowers said. But that stretch travels through the state park, so creating a bypass would be difficult, she said.