Freeland trail work may begin next month

Construction on the fourth section of what county government dreams will one day be an island-long trail may begin in Freeland as soon as next month.

Similar to the paved trails that parallel the south side of Highway 20 in Coupeville, the Freeland trail will follow Highway 525 from Cameron Road to Fish Road, a distance of about one-half mile. The work is slated to begin in late March or early April and will take several months to complete.

Traffic disruptions are not expected.

“It shouldn’t, the construction should be to the side of the highway,” said Bill Oakes, director of Island County Public Works.

The total project cost is about $1.04 million. Permitting and engineering expenses began at about $128,000 but ballooned to $270,000. The construction contract was awarded to low bidder C Johnson Construction, Inc., an Oak Harbor-based firm, at $776,000.

Island County has a long-range “Bridge-to-boat” plan to connect the two ends of the island — Deception Pass Bridge to the Clinton Ferry Terminal — with a paved, non-motorized trail. There’s no timeline and it’s funding dependent, which means portions will only be built when money becomes available.

The price tag for the 47-mile trail is unknown, but rough estimates are about $1 million per mile.

The three other segments already built are all on Central Whidbey, the oldest of which was constructed more than 15 years ago. It starts at Rhododendron County Park just south of Coupeville all the way to the Kettle’s Trail System at Camp Ebey State Park.

To keep costs down, the trail system is planned to largely stay within the state’s highway right-of-way though there may be times when alternative routes or bypasses are needed. Other hurdles may also delay parts of the trail; the Freeland project was initially planned to stretch from Fish Road to Bush Point Road, but the northern section was abandoned due to expenses with wetlands.

“That section of the trail is going to be pretty expensive no matter when we build it,” he said.

The county looked at building the trail on the Holmes Harbor side of the highway but the wetland problems there were even worse. Either way, Nichols Brothers Boat Builders officials are looking forward to the addition. The yard’s employee roster has swelled in recent years from an average of around 200 to more than 400. The company’s parking lot only has space for about 200 vehicles, forcing many to park nearby at Trinity Lutheran Church. Many walk along the highway after work, and the trail will provide some safety.

“Just having a safe shoulder on the side of the road would be a very positive thing,” said Bob French, planning director for Nichols Brothers.

The company recently bought a shuttle van, but it only carries 12 people a time. Many don’t wait, and walk. French said the company has taken to passing out reflective jerseys to make workers more visible as they tread along the highway.

French estimated as many as 60 employee cars are using the church lot on a daily basis.

The next section of the island trail will likely be in Clinton. That part of the system will stretch from the ferry to the Langley Road intersection at Ken’s Korner and will be a combination of sidewalk and paved trail, Oakes said. A feasibility study is underway to identify project details such as possible routes and the project cost, which will be more than Freeland.

“It’s a lot longer so a lot more,” Oakes said.

In 2014, he estimated the cost at $2 million.