The City of Montesano is looking optimistically at the state budget, with funding for city traffic revisions already having passed hurdles. The city council, however, lacked full support for the potential funding in a recent vote.
As has been discussed for several months, the city has studied building a roundabout (also referred to as a “traffic circle”) where the Highway 12 westbound offramp meets Main Street (also State Route 107) at the Chevron Station and Monte Square business complex.
While the city has studied a roundabout at the intersection (Some $13,000 has been spent for a traffic study completed by SCJ Alliance, the same consulting firm that completed the traffic study for the stop light proposed for Highway 12 at Clemons Road), the incoming funding could go toward other solutions.
“I think this is a great opportunity to have a nice aesthetic feature along the road — not necessarily as a roundabout… This project could be anything,” said SCJ Alliance senior vice president Bob Jewell during the April 11 Montesano City Council meeting. Jewell said another option could be creating a double-lane off-ramp.
Mayor Vini Samuel had asked the council to grant her permission to accept the funding. At a past meeting, the mayor had said she didn’t need the council’s approval to seek funding, but she did need its approval to accept the funding. That day was near, she said.
“The chances of us getting the funding just went from rock bottom to 90 percent,” Samuel said.
If the funding is approved by the state, the city could begin construction of whatever the solution may be as soon as April 2018. Prior to construction, the city will have a public meeting to discuss designs and receive community feedback.
Most outspoken members of the community have been opposed to a roundabout in their comments to the council. A handful of people spoke out against the potential roundabout during the meeting, including former mayors Doug Iverson and Ken Estes, both of whom have been outspoken in their opposition to the project in the past.
Project proponents also spoke in favor of the project during the meeting.
Donna Albert, a Montesano resident and civil engineer, supported the proposed roundabout.
“Congratulations. I’m excited. I think it’ll go great,” Albert said. “Some people are nervous about roundabouts, but you can have confidence in the engineer who designs your project. They’ll look at things like the turning radius of trucks, and they will compare your project to previous projects, and they use statistics — you can rely on the design.”
Will Foster, a local architect, also spoke in favor of a “city entry project,” of which the most discussed design is a roundabout.
“It’s a strong project that will make a real difference to our city,” Foster said. “For those of us who live here, it will be a welcome home and a source of pride. For those visitors, it will set the tone for their visit to our city. It is critical that we move forward with this, and I would encourage you to embrace that and step forward on this long-overdue project.”
While every other member of the city council looked optimistically at the potential funding, Councilman Dan Wood worried it was still premature to give the mayor the authorization to accept the funds.
“Roundabouts are good, but a roundabout in this area is of great concern to me,” Wood said. “Just to be clear, we don’t have the money.”
And Wood also said that the information he’s seen has not given him a positive prognosis for the project.
“We had a roundabout with the rest area (design) before we even did the traffic study,” Wood said. “For aesthetics, this may be beneficial, but I’m concerned about commerce.”
“Can we get our big rigs through there?” Wood continued. He pointed out that a study showed the turning radius of a specific truck could not use the compact roundabout being discussed. “There’s enough information out there now to say that this is going to impede commerce… I would urge the council to vote against the motion.”
Further, traffic stopped at the train tracks along Main Street could back up into the traffic circle and stop movement, he said.
The other members of council noted that if the mayor accepts the funding, the city is not obligated to construct a roundabout.
Councilman Ian Cope’s comments sum up the council’s collective perspective.
“In accepting this money, we are not committing ourselves to build a roundabout, we are giving ourselves options to do something with the entrance to Montesano off the highway on 107,” Cope said. “Without this money we have no options. And if we say no to it, I think we have taken away those options and we’ve also possibly damaged a very valuable relationship with the Washington State Legislature. I would urge the council to vote to accept this money.”
The council approved giving the mayor the authority to accept the potential funding with a 4-1 vote. Wood was the lone dissenting vote. Councilman Anthony Chung’s family owns businesses at Monte Square so he recused himself from the discussion and vote.
In total, the state could contribute $550,000 to the city’s project. That would cover the costs of the entire project, if the project is a compact roundabout.
Currently, the state Legislature is in session until April 28. If a budget is not approved by April 28, the Legislature will have to meet in special sessions. The state biennium ends June 30.