Where will the buck stop on Hwy 305?

POULSBO —Widening Highway 305 will improve traffic flows through the city of Poulsbo — but at what cost? Representatives from the State Department of Transportation couldn’t really answer that question during an open house and public hearing at the Poulsbo Fire Station Tuesday night.

DOT and city officials were bombarded with questions and comments concerning noise, stormwater runoff, the proposed High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes and wetlands impact, but very few people inquired whether the twice-delayed project even has the financial steam to make it down the 2.2-mile business corridor.

In spite of having design work all but completed and the environmental assessment process well under way, Troy Cowan of the DOT said he wasn’t certain whether state, federal and local agencies could scrape the $14 million for the project together. Or even if the project would cost more than $14 million.

“That’s not a solid number,” he explained, noting expenses could very well be higher than anticipated. Additionally, delayed developer contributions and a lagging federal and state economy could very well push the needed dollars elsewhere, Cowan agreed.

But, he pointed out, State Route 305 isn’t the only project facing such dilemmas.

“It’s not just this project. It’s every project,” Cowan said.

If the Hwy 305 funding request fish lands in the net before inflation sinks it to the bottom of the state pool, there are still a number of other obstacles and issues the DOT must address before residents accept the proposal with open arms.

“It has generated a lot of comments,” said Jeff Sawyer of the DOT’s environmental division. “We knew there would be concerns with the traffic noise, stormwater and wetlands impact.”

Such worries were aired by some 92 residents who attended the session. While he was getting an earful, Sawyer said having so many concerned citizens on hand was a step in the right direction.

“This is the best turnout I’ve seen on any project like this in a long time,” he explained. “It’s good for us because it really helps us out.”

Cindy Rasmussen was more than happy to share her opinion on the project, what she wasn’t happy about was the negative impact the widening would have on her tenants at the SR 305 business park, just south of Bond Road.

“I have a number of concerns,” Rasmussen said, noting that the DOT is proposing right-in and right-out only turns into the park. “The access is unacceptable.”

Customers and delivery trucks coming from the south would have to continue north, turn left on Bond and travel through downtown Poulsbo to return to their origin, she pointed out, noting that the business park could not be accessed by motorists traveling south on SR 305.

“It’ll make it difficult on the tenants, which will make it difficult for us to keep tenants,” she explained.

Rassmussen wasn’t the only one with “turning issues.”

“I have a legitimate concern,” said Al Moore, manager of Poulsbo Market Thriftway. The main issue for Moore under the proposal, is that delivery trucks could no longer take their regular route to the store’s docking bay. An illegal right turn off Hostmark would prohibit it.

“There’d be no possible way to get a semi backed in there,” he pointed out, noting that last time a driver attempted the entrance proposed by the DOT, the result was a high-centered truck.

Howard Binney, co-owner of Sir Bean Coffee and Tea across the street from Thriftway, said his main worry had to do with the two new HOV lanes that the entire project has basically been crafted around.

“I’m all for growth within the Poulsbo area. I just hope the state looks at whether the HOV lanes will benefit us or whether 305 warrants HOV lanes at all,” he remarked.

City Councilwoman Kathryn Quade, speaking as a private resident on the matter, said, “I think it’s spending too much money on a short-sighted solution that may not be a solution at all.”

Poulsbo Planning Commissioner Barry Babcock’s points of contention centered around stormwater runoff going through new, larger culverts on SR 305 and overwhelming the city’s infrastructure.

Comments and questions aside, City Engineer John Stephenson said he was pleased to see so much interest in the project.

“I’m pretty impressed by the number of people that turned out,” Stephenson explained. “I think it’s a reflection that people are concerned about the ongoing congestion on the 305 corridor — this is a relief for that.”

While the 1997 city council voiced unanimous support of the SR 305 widening, Poulsbo Mayor Donna Jean Bruce said she would like to see the Department of Transportation address potential problems caused by noise, stormwater aesthetics and landscaping before the design is completed.

Whether or not the state will be able to provide a luxury sedan at a beater price has yet to be determined but according to DOT, “more money will be necessary to fully construct the SR 305 improvements.”

How much and where the funding will come from has yet to be determined.

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