With the new Bellingham Costco store nearing completion, city officials are hoping traffic in that area will go just as smoothly once the store opens next month.
Construction of the 162,000-square-foot store and its 24-fuel pump gas station on West Bakerview Road near Interstate 5 didn’t really get rolling until this summer, but crews have made quick progress to get it ready for the Saturday, Nov. 19 opening. Its current store on Meridian Street is scheduled to close on Friday, Nov. 18. There has been no official announcements for a new tenant to go into the 133,000 space on Meridian.
Along the way, Costco and the city have made some improvements to the roads in the West Bakerview area to make sure it doesn’t become a traffic choke point.
“People will notice more traffic, but we want to make sure it keeps moving,” said Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville.
With a slew of other potential projects being proposed in the area, city and state transportation officials recognize that some of the lower-cost improvements eventually won’t be enough to keep traffic moving in the area. The city is having an open house 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 25 at Alderwood Elementary School to unveil three proposed plans to make major changes to Interstate 5-Bakerview overpass.
While the specific plans will be unveiled on Oct. 25, Linville said a new northbound on-ramp to the freeway on the east side is something being considered, so traffic would no longer have to cross the overpass. Widening the overpass is also something that’s on the table.
City Transportation Planner Chris Comeau said $10 million is being allocated from state gas tax funds for the project. It would be a phased approach with much of the work being constructed in 2019 and 2020. Details about the West Bakerview and I-5 interchange improvements can be found on the city’s website.
Road improvements for the Costco opening
Several road projects by the city and Costco are either being finished or will be tackled in the near future in order to handle the expected increased traffic in the area.
Costco is putting in Arctic Avenue as the entrance to the store from West Bakerview Road. Along with swinging by the fueling station and the store, Arctic will connect with Mahogany Avenue, which will be built on the north side of the store. Mahogany will connect Pacific Highway and Northwest Avenue, giving people other options to visit the store from the north. Bids are expected to go out early next year to construct Mahogany – the project is scheduled to be completed the second half of 2017.
A dedicated right turn lane going to Arctic Avenue from West Bakerview Road will also be built sometime in 2017. Next to that turn lane will be a Taco Time restaurant, a project that is currently in the permitting process and is expected to get built in 2017.
The connection between Pacific Highway and West Bakerview Road will also have some improvements with the goal of keeping the traffic flowing.
What else is coming to the area
Several projects are in the permitting process around Costco, which is another reason the city is taking short- and long-term steps to improving roads in the area.
On the north side of what will become Mahogany Avenue, a residential project that includes 330 houses and 110 multifamily residential units is being proposed. Retail centers are also being considered on west and east sides of Costco. A 426-unit apartment complex and restaurant is being considered near I-5 and Costco.
A possible 400,000-square-foot retail center is being considered on the other side of I-5, near West Maplewood Avenue. To the north by the Bellingham International Airport, the 153-room Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites is nearing completion. The hotel will also have meeting areas and a full-service restaurant.
Many of these projects are in the early stages of the planning process and could be derailed by a variety of factors, including a downturn in the economy or difficulty securing financing. City officials are taking a conservative approach, planning for the traffic numbers that would be in the area if all of the proposed projects are built, Comeau said.
How Bakerview was transformed
The addition of Costco continues what has been a steady stream of economic development along West Bakerview Road.
In the mid-1990s, that stretch of Bakerview Road was a lightly used route for people who wanted to get to the north side of Bellis Fair and Meridian Street from the freeway. At that time, that portion of West Bakerview Road was sprinkled with homes. The city decided to widen Bakerview Road in that section to five lanes, changing much of the zoning from residential to commercial. Homeowners eventually sold their property, leading to commercial development that includes stores, hotels, offices and multifamily units.
In 2010, Bellingham City Council approved plans to rezone the area where Costco is going in for commercial development. The council had rejected the rezone in 2008, when WinCo Foods was interested in putting a grocery store there. The decision in 2010 was considered a key step in keeping Costco in Bellingham as the company was looking to expand.
“I’m very excited to have retained Costco in Bellingham,” Linville said, noting it has been a lot of work getting to this point.
Linville noted that the city wants to make sure the traffic continues to flow in the area, not just for the residents’ well-being but because that corridor is a key area for future economic development. To the north on Pacific Highway is an area that is zoned industrial, one of the few available areas left in the city that is available to attract industrial companies that can pay high wages, Linville said. Having a traffic mess to the south would make that area less attractive to potential companies.
“We can’t have that area become a choke point,” she said.