An official transfer of Pioneer Street in Ridgefield could allow for easier work and greater control over roadway improvements once it changes oversight from the state to the city.
During the Sept. 14 meeting, the Ridgefield City Council voted 6-1 to support a jurisdictional transfer of state Route 501 within city limits, from the Washington State Department of Transportation to the city. The transfer involves the entirety of the currently designated state route beginning at the west side of the Interstate 5 junction to just west of Main Avenue, according to a map provided to the council.
Currently, that stretch of road has a state route designation because of previous plans to have a highway run from Vancouver to Ridgefield. During a July meeting before the Washington State Transportation Commission, WSDOT staff explained, initially, a route was planned to connect the west end of Ridgefield’s Route 501 stretch to Mill Plain Boulevard.
Now, a number of factors make that connection infeasible, not the least of which being the presence of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in between the two locations.
Transferring jurisdiction has a number of benefits for Ridgefield, Public Works Director Chuck Green said. Projects on Pioneer Street will no longer require extensive coordination with WSDOT.
The acquisition would give the city more control in addressing the conditions of the road. According to the city’s own assessment, conditions vary substantially along the course of the road, from “poor” in older sections to “good” in newer ones, based on a grading formula used across the state.
Green said there was $2.5 million in deferred maintenance on the west end of the road. WSDOT hasn’t gotten to the project because of a new policy requiring any major repavement projects to follow “complete street” guidelines that require additions like sidewalks.
The city doesn’t have that requirement, so it can forgo improvements that would raise the price tag on a repaving job, Green said. For the city to do the work it would cost more like $1 million.
Should the transfer be approved, the city would have to manage all maintenance and repairs to the stretch of road. That includes a landslide area between Reiman Road and Gee Creek.
The area experienced four slides since 2006, with the most recent in 2016, Green said. Repairs cost between $650,000 to $1.1 million per slide based on data kept by WSDOT.
Green noted slide prevention can be addressed in different ways, including reshaping slopes and reconstructing roads to less-intensive — and expensive — options for several hundred thousands of dollars.
The transfer would also save WSDOT from spending the estimated $250,000 to $400,000 in maintenance for Pioneer Street. Ridgefield City Manager Steve Stuart said that is an opportunity to make improvements that are currently less likely to happen given WSDOT’s limited funds.
“It’s not about saving WSDOT money. It’s that they are not taking care of the infrastructure now because they can’t,” Stuart said.
Ridgefield Mayor Pro-tem Rob Aichele was concerned that taking over responsibility of the road means assuming the additional cost of slide mitigation and ongoing maintenance.
“I’m looking at the risks versus the benefits to make a decision for our taxpayers,” Aichele said.
To mitigate those costs, city staff recommended the council ask the state to fund a maintenance and repair program. Because Ridgefield would be assuming the annual maintenance, the suggested program includes funding for pavement repairs on the west side of the road, slide prevention and potential “refreshing” of road markings along the corridor.
Stuart noted this was a second “ask” and not directly tied to the jurisdiction transfer.
With the council’s approval, the recommendation will be sent to the Washington State Transportation Commission, which will vote on approval of the transfer at their October meeting. If approved, the recommendation would go to both the Washington state Legislature’s House and Senate transportation committees as a bill to consider during the 2024 legislative session.
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