The backstage maneuvering over Pierce County’s proposed cross-base highway has been fast and furious all week long. A key vote by the Regional Transportation Investment District executive committee is scheduled today.
The committee will decide whether to drop the controversial highway project from the regional “Roads & Transit” package heading for the November ballot in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties. As the news side has reported, County Executive John Ladenburg adamantly wants the highway, but County Councilman Shawn Bunney favors dropping it to head off environmental opposition to the whole package.
Meanwhile, here’s one argument that surfaced today from inside the county planning department:
it is interesting to observe the debate ongoing in our County
regarding the proposal to limit RTID funding for the Crossbase Highway
based on environmental concerns when no one mentions the environmental
impacts of the proposed expansion of Highway 162. It is my belief that
there are at least as many environmental impacts associated with the
expansion of Highway 162 for the following reasons. When we first began
laying out the Comprehensive Plan for the County it was well recognized
that our valley floors were inappropriate for urban development and
public investment in infrastructure based on the significant
concentration of critical areas on the valley floor. This includes:
flood plains, wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat corridors associated
with the river and stream systems, seismic hazards (the valley floor is
primarily alluvial soils which are highly susceptible to liquefaction
with any kind of ground movement activity) and not to forget volcanic
hazards. Yes, Mt. Rainier is an active volcano but we tend to forget
about it. Based on this information the County drew the Urban Growth
Boundary around the Orting Valley and made the area rural under our
Comprehensive Plan. This area is also the location of the County’s most
productive Agricultural Resource Land.
Expanding Highway 162 through the Orting Valley will increase the
pressure to urbanize this rural area with the ensuing environmental
impacts. In contrast the Crossbase highway is designed to serve an
already established urban area. By adding transportation capacity in a
rural area sprawl is being encouraged rather than addressing the very
real transportation needs within our urban area.
Of course, expanding 162 is a high priority for Bunney, who represents that part of the county. I suspect the environmental groups are more focused on the cross-base highway because it means building an entirely new road corridor, rather than expanding an existing one. I would also note that Ladenburg has said nothing against including 162 in the roads package up to this point.