Stimulus: Cities, counties ready to take on any population surprises

City and county officials don’t have all the answers they would like about how many people will come to the Tri-Cities over the next two years as federal stimulus money accelerates Hanford cleanup.

Estimates are that the nearly $2 billion in stimulus cash will support up to an additional 4,000 Hanford jobs over the next two years. It’s unclear, however, how many of those will go to people new to the community

Even without a clear idea of what impacts the build-up at Hanford will have, city and county planners are are fairly relaxed. “We’re not going to do much work on planning for this,” said Kennewick City Manager Bob Hammond. “We’re going to react to what occurs.”

The laid-back approach is due to several factors. For one thing, there’s a little opportunity for planning — contractors already have begun hiring workers, and the flow of money has started.

And officials remember that the last time the Tri-Cities braced for a significant Hanford build-up the impact was less dramatic than expected. Earlier this decade, officials expected an influx of 3,000 employees for work on the vitrification plant project, but many of the jobs went to people already in the community.

But mostly, officials say they don’t need to whip up new plans because the community already is prepared.

“We do generally good planning compared to other regions in the country,” Hammond said. “I think one of the reasons is we’re used to these influxes and changes,” he said, recalling past ebbs and flows of Hanford funding cycles.

Most of the cities and counties have plans to accommodate projected growth for the next 20 years or more. Each recently completed or started projects that were envisioned before stimulus money was headed this way.

For instance, Hammond cited water supplies. 

About three years ago, Kennewick doubled its water treatment plant’s capacity to 15 million gallons a day, up from 7.5 million. Richland, meanwhile, over a 20-year period ending in 2007 increased its water capacity by 4 million to 6 million gallons a day simply by replacing old, leaky water lines.

Pasco will increase its production by a similar amount with a new treatment plant it plans to start constructing this summer. And West Richland is finishing a second intertie with Richland’s water system that will let it meet future demand by buying water from its neighbor.

Roads and highways are a work in progress, but again city, county and state transportation officials feel confident in existing plans.

For instance, the state’s study of accidents at the south end of the blue bridge paved the way for a $16 million project to reconfigure the Highway 240 interchange. Construction is expected to finish by the end of the year.

Many Hanford-bound drivers are among the 60,000 motorists who use the blue bridge daily. That volume is expected to increase to 84,000 to 2029.

Several recent projects have increased traffic capacity in Richland, but more Hanford workers will test those. Richland Public Works Director Pete Rogalsky said traffic signals and a third turn lane were installed at the Stevens Drive intersection with the Highway 240 Richland bypass in 2005. Lanes were added to the south end of George Washington Way in 2006. And the state two years ago widened Highway 240 from Columbia Center Boulevard to Interstate 182.

“All of those provide improved ability to handle congestion,” Rogalsky said. “(Stimulus projects) will give them a little bit sterner test if there’s that much more traffic.”

He also said George Washington Way on some days becomes congested, and that could become worse as stimulus work hits full steam.

Similarly, more Hanford workers may add to existing traffic problems on Road 68 in Pasco. But the city is working to improve that corridor.

And the city, Franklin County and the state all have projects designed to enhance traffic flow toward Richland at the Road 100/Interstate 182 intersection. A new interchange loop and improvements to Road 100 will speed traffic flow. Also, the county plans to extend Road 100 north to serve rural areas and subdivisions along the Columbia River north of Pasco.

The city also plans this summer to develop Powerline Road, initially as a two-lane road, to connect Roads 68 and 100, using $750,000 in stimulus money.

Kennewick’s plans include extending Steptoe Street from Gage Boulevard to Center Parkway later this year, widening Fourth Avenue from Kellogg Street to Union Street, and installing roundabouts at Fourth and Kellogg and at Leslie Road and Clearwater Avenue.

In West Richland, the city plans to finish work on Belmont Boulevard, linking Paradise Way and Keene Road, by late spring. The street will serve an area ready for development, said Dave Weiser, city administrator.

Although officials feel confident in existing plans and infrastructures, they still have questions about what stimulus money will pay for and how many jobs will be created.

Where the workers will live, what housing they’ll need and how long they might stay are all tied to whether the workers will be new to Hanford or rehired after previous layoffs.

“Maybe we’re just anticipating more than we need to,” said Pasco City Manager Gary Cruthfield. “But it would be good to have a better feel for what to expect so we can do our best to get prepared.”

Source: Tri-City Herald

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