Hoping to bolster and improve access to Whidbey Air Park, Island County is looking at building one of its first new roads in decades on the South End.
Talked about for years, the project is funding dependent, but the effort took a step forward this week with an open house at Deer Lagoon Grange. There, county officials unveiled seven possibilities to the public that ranged from entirely new roads to rebuilding existing accesses to meet current standards.
The air park is a privately owned public-use airport located on Crawford Road, which is largely unpaved with accesses off Highway 525 to the south and Brooks Hill Road to the north. The road is in poor condition and both the Port of South Whidbey and the Island County Economic Development Council made requests last year for improved access to the facility, according to Connie Bowers, assistant county engineer for Island County Public Works.
“That’s primarily because the area around the air park is the only light industrial zone on South Whidbey,” Bowers said.
The project was included in the county’s six-year transportation plan and otak, an international consulting firm with offices in Redmond and Kirkland, was hired this summer to perform a $39,000 study to identify possible routes. Wednesday’s open house was scheduled to vet those options to the public and get community feedback before the study wraps up in December and a final route is recommended to decision makers.
The event saw healthy attendance with about 50 participants. Opinions on the best choice, and the project in general, varied considerably. Several people expressed disinterest in further development of the area.
“I’m concerned about the remoteness of it and bringing in industry,” said Jennifer Crichton, a Quigley Road resident.
She worried that its rural location would lead to a lack of regulation and supervision of new businesses. Crichton was, however, relieved to learn that the option considered for Quigley Road was abandoned for topographical reasons.
Others said they preferred improving Crawford, from Brooks Hill Road, over blazing an entirely new street. It makes more sense to build on what’s already there, said Sam Glass, a Coles Road resident. His partner, Donna Vanderheiden, echoed those sentiments, saying the northern stretch of Crawford was particularly bad.
“Its full of potholes, goes up and down — it’s awful,” she said.
Phil Nelson, a Crawford Road resident near the south entrance off Highway 525, said he hasn’t made up his mind yet on which route is best. A paved road would be nice, but it comes at the expense of higher traffic volume. But alternatives that connect to the highway have problems of their own, as Windi Shapley, project engineer for otak, said such a route would likely result in some kind of modification to the existing southern entrance, such as closing one end of the street to ensure motorists only use the county road to access the airpark. That means Nelson may be forced to drive around to get to his house.
“I’m in a quandary,” Nelson said.
Some questioned why the county would go through so much headache and expense to bolster a light industrial zone when it would be far easier to change the zoning of other areas on South Whidbey that already have the necessary infrastructure.
Officials at the meetingt said it wasn’t that simple, that state development laws, particularly the Growth Management Act, prohibit such changes.
According to Joe Araucto, a county engineer working on the project, the fate of the road effort is largely unknown. The study is expected to conclude by the end of the year. The next big step is to present a recommendation to the Island County commissioners.
“But, before we do that we have to figure out how we’re going to pay for it,” Araucto said.
While on the county’s six-year plan, funding has yet to be identified and construction would be in the millions, he said. Each route would cost about $2 million to build, but if all of Crawford was rebuilt and paved that would include two options, totalling $4 million.
“Right now, it’s a wish list,” he said.
Araucto added that he’s been with the department for 20 years, and the county hasn’t built any new roads in that time. It is, however, engaged in another simultaneous effort on Central Whidbey to build a road between Race and Houston roads. Currently, the state highway is the only way to drive north or south on that portion of the island, and the new road would address the potential safety issue of emergency vehicles being unable to get to the hospital in Coupeville in the event of a highway closure.
Public works will accept public comment on the air park road proposal for a couple more weeks. To make a submission, call Araucto at 360-679-7331 or email him at JoeA@co.island.wa.us.