A paperwork issue caused a snag in a study of potential traffic improvements around the Olympic Gateway Mall in Aberdeen, an area that can be a headache for motorists, particularly when trains are passing through.
In August, the Grays Harbor Council of Governments obtained a $600,000 Federal Highway Administration grant for the Gateway Mall Access Improvements Project, with $108,642 in matching funds from the Port of Grays Harbor. The federal money is administered through the Washington State Department of Transportation.
The project proposal outlined initial research to identify a “best use alternative,” cost estimates, planning specifications and environmental plans leading up to construction.
“We got a call from WSDOT that said, ‘No, you can’t do that. You need to break them out into two phases,’ ” Council of Governments Executive Director Vicki Cummings explained.
The project was frozen in January while paperwork was re-drafted to distinguish the analysis and engineering phases.
“We’ve come quite a ways through this project, as a matter of fact we have a consultant on hold,” Cummings added.
Because of the agreement between the Council of Governments and the Port, commissioners needed to approve the changes to the plan before it could continue. The new plan identifies $250,000 of the grant designated for analysis, with a $39,017 match from the Port. The total funding is unchanged, and the remainder will be available for the second phase. Commissioners approved the new funding structure when they met on Tuesday and that removes the snag that was stalling progress.
Cummings said the Council of Governments — an organization funded by local governments to facilitate issues involving more multiple government jurisdictions — aims to complete the first phase by the end of this year. It may identify traffic mitigation options only involving the highway, or it may find that an alternative involving changes to the rail infrastructure between the mall and the state highway.
The federal money can be used to study any alternative, but because it’s highway money, it can’t be used to actually engineer anything but highway alternatives.
“We can look at anything that affects access to and from … the state highway,” Cummings explained. If an alternative involving rail is selected, the project would need a separate funding source.
Depending on the scale of the project recommended, it may need additional funding in any case. There may be smaller changes recommended in the interim, such as changes to area traffic signals or a reader board advising drivers a train is coming.
“Smaller fixes like that could probably be done pretty quickly. But the big fix, whatever they’re recommending for the big fix, we’re going to have to take some time to find funding for that,” Cummings said.
A 2000 study determined that the area needed traffic improvements, and a $24,000 study completed early in 2013 as a joint effort of the Port, city and county focused on rail mitigation identified two main alternatives: Dig mall entrances to go under the rail trestle near the Guest House Inn & Suites, or elevate the rail high enough to allow traffic underneath it.
Port Director of Environmental and Engineering Services Marc Horton said the study estimated the first option would cost about $1 million with limited height for large trucks or recreational vehicles, and the second would cost about $12 million.
Cummings said the new study would not directly focus on those alternatives, but information from the smaller study would likely be put to use.
“It’s a valuable piece of information to have because they did some surveying and analysis of what’s in the ground,” she said.
The second phase was originally projected to be completed by mid-2015, but Cummings noted, “the length of time it takes to do the engineering depends on the level of the project.”
She said legislators at the state and federal levels are aware of the project and have been very supportive.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to get some assistance from them” when the time comes to look for more funding, she said.