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Are you ready for all the changes coming to north Bellingham?

View of Mount Baker overlooking East Bakerview Road and James Street in Bellingham, Nov. 10, 2016.
View of Mount Baker overlooking East Bakerview Road and James Street in Bellingham, Nov. 10, 2016. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

More change is coming to the north part of town, and city officials want to make sure it doesn’t result in traffic gridlock.

The next two years will have the most major traffic projects the city has seen in a long time, with much of them happening in the Bakerview, Cordata and King Mountain areas. Planners are seeing a lot of residential and commercial projects moving in the proposal and permitting stages, so they know higher traffic counts are on the way. If the city can find funding for all the projects it has prioritized for the next two years in those areas, it could total more than $85 million.

In some ways, it’s a signal that the city has reached a point where the next stage of growth is into areas long known for their rural setting. Even though much of the land has features like wetlands and streams that make it more difficult and costly to develop, the demand for more houses and apartments has driven up home prices and the numbers now pencil out for developers to look into challenging projects.

“All the land that is easy to develop has been developed,” said Chris Comeau, traffic planner for the city of Bellingham. “(The north part of Bellingham) is where the development activity is now and we are trying to address it.”

What is coming will really change the look of north Bellingham. The city estimates that in the West Bakerview Road and Cordata portions of the city, the number of residential units that have either recently been built or have been proposed total nearly 2,500 housing units, adding around 4,800 people. New construction and planned projects would also add around 1.3 million square feet of commercial and institutional space, which is almost twice as much as the Bellis Fair mall. That commercial and institutional space will create around 2,000 jobs, the city estimates.

In the King Mountain area, which includes areas around Deemer Road, James Street and East Bakerview Road, active, pending and recent development activity will add nearly 2,400 residential units and around 4,500 residents. More than 1 million square feet of commercial, institutional and industry space is expected to be developed, adding around 1,750 jobs, according to city estimates.

For many residents in the Cordata neighborhood, they understand that development is coming and are actively working with the city about the traffic changes. While most of Bellingham watched the presidential results on Tuesday night, some 35 people attended a neighborhood meeting to learn more about the city’s traffic plans. One of those in attendance was Rosalie Nast, who grew up in Bellingham between 1950 and 1962. She moved to the Cordata area in 2010.

She said she’s been pleased with some of the fairly recent additions to the area, which includes trails and a community garden as well as plans for a park. She understands the plans in place for development are now starting to come to fruition and is concerned about the traffic impacts.

“The traffic-improvement projects have been lagging behind some of these projects, so the neighborhood is being very active when it comes to looking at the maps and asking questions about what’s being done,” Nast said.

Livability is also a concern, said Julie Guy, who was a co-founder of the Cordata Neighborhood Association in 2005. Along with traffic, that includes trying to persuade the city and developers to add amenities that add value for the residents. That includes things like designs for the residential buildings to adding something like a branch library for families in the area.

“I am totally resigned to our streets being busier,” Guy said. “But we are building communities in this area, so we need to have places where people can congregate and enjoy the area. The connectivity is important.”

Here’s a closer look:

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN CORDATA/West Bakerview

Even before the Costco store opens at its new Bakerview location on Saturday, the Cordata area is adjusting to a fundamental change in traffic patterns. Long known for its north-south routes of Meridian Street, Cordata Parkway and Northwest Avenue, more people are taking east-west routes to go back and forth between Meridian Street and places like the Bakerview Fred Meyer, the hotels near that retail center and Bellingham International Airport.

That traffic trend is expected to increase after Costco moves. Current city data on traffic patterns show a large influx of traffic on Meridian Street coming from the north that tapers off dramatically once it gets to the current Costco location.

“It’s hard to say what will happen,” Nast said, noting that people may either continue coming down Meridian and cut across to the Bakerview Costco or decide to use Interstate 5. She added that she noticed a big increase in east-west traffic after the June Road project was completed, essentially connecting Aldrich Road to the Cordata neighborhood.

With that changing trend in mind, the city and developers are working on projects that would improve east-west traffic flow. Along with building Mahogany Avenue just north of the new Costco, other projects include extensions of West Horton Road and Kline Road. The extension of Kline road in north Cordata would also lead to the establishment of a city park in the area.

Another key project is a roundabout that is scheduled to be built at the intersection of Cordata Parkway and Stuart Road in 2018.

Other projects being considered include safety improvements on Aldrich Road, including sidewalks. There’s also the West Bakerview/I-5 interchange improvements that’s scheduled to be done in 2020.

WHAT IS HAPPENING AROUND KING MOUNTAIN

This area has several projects in the planning stages and need funding, but one that is funded will be a significant east-west connector.

The funded major project is connecting Orchard Drive by going under I-5. This will link the King Mountain area with the Cornwall neighborhood and the hospital.

The connection is expected to add traffic to James Street on the east side of the freeway, so the city is making plans to improve that street as well as Telegraph Road, adding things like sidewalks and possibly bike lanes. The city also wants to add a roundabout at the James Street and Bakerview Road intersection. Street improvements are also set for James Street closer to King Mountain.

Much of the road-improvement work is being done as a result of the area being annexed into the city in 2009. As a result of the annexation the city has been working to upgrade the rural former county roads into standard urban roads, Comeau said.

Much of the proposed and current projects in the area are residential. Some of the non-residential projects being proposed include an elementary school and medical offices.

Many of the proposed traffic projects still need funding, something the city is working on. How successful the city is will be a factor on how many road improvements are done as these developments are finished. The city has a variety of options, from transportation tax revenue to the private developers to even agencies like the Whatcom Transportation Authority or schools that would benefit from the improvements.

“It’s like a giant puzzle when it comes to finding money,” Comeau said. “For the next couple years we will be pressed on making sure we can get the funding needed for these projects.”

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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