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State to review controversial rail plan after all

Post by Brent Champaco on May 11, 2010 at 4:42 pm with No Comments »
May 11, 2010 6:18 pm

The state Department of Transportation announced today that it will review the effect of the Point Defiance Bypass project on its surrounding communities after all.

DOT will conduct a project-level, Environmental Assessment of the $91 million project, something for which Lakewood officials have repeatedly asked the state.

It isn’t clear how the environmental assessment, which officials say could take up to two years, will affect the $590 million the state received this year to improve passenger rail along the Interstate 5 corridor.

The state must build the bypass by 2017, or it could potentially lose the federal money.

Lakewood officials feared the proposed train route — which reroutes passenger trains that currently weave around Point Defiance, instead cutting through South Tacoma, Lakewood and onto the Nisqually area — would snarl traffic and create accidents at crossings.

“WSDOT has invited key stakeholders and municipalities within the project area to be part of an advisory team that will provide input and review of the updated studies specifically focusing on potential traffic impacts,” according to a press release. “WSDOT will also seek public comment during the EA process.”

Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond added that while it’s important to take advantage of federal money to expand service, “it is important that we achieve that goal in cooperation with the cities and local communities along the corridor. We will all benefit from a deliberate, thorough and transparent process.”

In 2007, the state obtained a “categorical exclusion” for the project from the Federal Highway Administration. That allowed bypass planning to move forward without a detailed environmental assessment.

After that, Lakewood officials wrote the state pleading that the project did need a close examination.

“As we discussed with city staff,” Hammond wrote in a letter dated Dec. 31, 2007, “these potential impacts were not found to be significant, thus making an EA (Environmental Assessment) unnecessary.”

But Lakewood continued to fight.

In January, the City Council adopted a resolution against the plan, and Mayor Doug Richardson wrote a letter to Hammond regarding the route’s effects on some Lakewood neighborhoods.

The city, along with DuPont, was scheduled to again oppose the plan during a hearing from the state Utilities and Transportation Commission on four of the route’s crossings June 7.

Today, Lakewood City Manager Andrew Neiditz said that hearing has been postponed until the state conducts its environmental analysis.
“This is big news for Lakewood,” he said. “We are extremely pleased.”

Lakewood City Councilman Walter Neary agreed.

“All we’ve been asking for is a fair hearing. This is a victory for democracy,” he said. “I think it says a lot about the state. They didn’t have to do this.”

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