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What’s the best fix for the Bakerview overpass on I-5?

Cars travel along Bakerview Road in front of Fred Meyer on April 21, 2010.
Cars travel along Bakerview Road in front of Fred Meyer on April 21, 2010. The Bellingham Herald

Adding new northbound and southbound freeway on-ramps appears to be a top contender when it comes to trying to solve traffic congestion on the Bakerview overpass.

City officials unveiled several options to address traffic congestion during an open house at Alderwood Elementary School on Tuesday, Oct. 25. More than 100 residents attended the event, looking at the different drawings and asking questions about the project.

The state has allocated $10 million for the project, with design work expected next year and construction happening around 2020. Officials from several agencies, including the city and the Washington State Department of Transportation, will be meeting next month to select a final design plan.

Other ideas included expanding the overpass or adding roundabouts on either side. However, those ideas come with a much higher price tag and the overpass expansion would create a major traffic headache during construction, particularly for people going to and leaving the airport, said Chris Comeau, city transportation planner. The widening of the overpass alone, for example, could cost upward of $17 million, while changing the interchange and widening the overpass could top $31 million, according to estimates.

Major road changes are needed not only because of the Saturday, Nov. 19, opening of Costco, but several large residential and commercial projects are in various stages of planning in the area.

1,007 Number of housing units for various residential projects either accepted or approved by Bellingham in the area around the Bakerview Road overpass.

The option of putting in a northbound ramp on the east side of the freeway (near Pacific Highway) and a southbound ramp near the northwest side of the overpass would be in the budget’s ballpark, with an estimated cost of between $13.8 million and $16.9 million. It could also be done in phases, making it a flexible option from a budget standpoint. The northbound ramp could be done first for around $10 million while officials try to get more funding for the southbound ramp, Comeau said.

The most common questions from residents revolved around future development. At this point the city has either approved or accepted permit applications for 1,007 housing units that would be used by an estimated 1,950 people and commercial projects totaling 497,000 square feet that is expected to employ up to 1,200 people in that area. That’s in addition to all the new hotels that have recently been built. On the west side of Interstate 5 is a proposed annexation that would add 174 acres to the city that could result in 650,000 square feet of development.

City officials at the open house reminded residents that the zoning along West Bakerview road was changed from residential to commercial in the late 1990s after Bakerview Road was widened. Nearly 20 years later, the private sector is now seeing opportunities to develop the area. Given what’s potentially coming, the city is trying to plan accordingly when it comes to traffic, Comeau said.

Details about the project can be found on the city’s website.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

HOW THE BAKERVIEW INTERCHANGE GOT THE CURRENT NORTHBOUND OVERPASS

Having a northbound on-ramp that crosses over the freeway seems like a strange configuration, but it was part of a different plan for traffic flow in that area.

When the Bakerview overpass was constructed in the mid-1970s, officials were planning to shut down the Northwest Avenue exit because the federal government felt the exits were too close together, said Chris Comeau, city transportation planner.

With the Northwest exit slated to close, the Northwest/Bakerview area was not expected to develop much, so not much traffic would come from that area. Comeau said planners believed much of the traffic would go through West Maplewood Avenue and the nearby airport, so a decision was made to put the freeway entrances close by.

“Maplewood was to become a major conduit to the freeway,” Comeau said.

As time went by, the Northwest Avenue exit didn’t close. Other development arrived in that area, including a major car dealership, and eventually officials decided that the Northwest exit would remain open. The residential areas became commercial developments, and now both Northwest and Bakerview are busy freeway exits in Bellingham.

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