James Street roundabout, Blaine intersection projects get funding

Bellingham and some of Whatcom County’s smaller cities have been awarded millions of dollars in grants to make road improvements.

The state Transportation Improvement Board announced $95 million in grants statewide on Nov. 21, including $3.1 million for Bellingham, Blaine, Everson and Ferndale.

The biggest local project to receive funding is a roundabout for the intersection of James Street Road and East Bakerview Road, in Bellingham. The board awarded $1.4 million to build the $3.8 million project. The city should learn by the end of December whether it will receive another $1.9 million from a federal safety grant, city transportation planner Chris Comeau said.

The project could be fully funded by mid-2015, with construction scheduled in 2017, Comeau said.

More traffic is expected at the intersection, which for now is controlled by a traffic light. On average, more than 12,000 vehicles a day drive on Bakerview there.

“Both James and Bakerview already carry a lot of traffic,” Comeau said. “The King Mountain neighborhood (at the north end of James) has tremendous potential for additional development.”

Bellingham also received $60,000 from the board to replace a sidewalk on the east side of Yew Street, between Alabama and Texas streets.

Blaine anticipates a major intersection reconstruction in 2017, funded in part by a $750,000 Transportation Improvement Board grant. Most of the rest of the money for the $1.36 million Hughes Avenue improvement will come from a federal grant, said Bill Bullock, Blaine’s assistant public works director.

The project calls for widening Hughes Avenue and adding a sidewalk from Interstate 5 to the intersection with Peace Portal Drive. The intersection will be realigned to make it easier for trucks to turn. Peace Portal Drive crosses Hughes at a 45-degree angle.

“We can’t afford a project of this size without outside help,” Bullock said. “We were pretty excited when we learned about the award.”

Rounding out the list of local award recipients: Everson received $649,138 to improve Kirsh Drive between Main and Lincoln streets. Ferndale received $280,000 to rebuild Washington Street between Vista Drive and Third Avenue.

In the past few years, the state’s smaller cities have been applying more aggressively for Transportation Improvement Board grants, said Steve Gorcester, the board’s executive director.

“Before 2011, (there were) no applications at all from Sumas or Everson. After 2011, 15 applications between them,” Gorcester said. “Blaine, four applications before 2011 and 16 after.”

The board has been giving more money to smaller and medium-sized cities for repaving, which largely explains the increased success Whatcom County cities have had applying for grants, Gorcester said.

As a result, Whatcom County jurisdictions have been getting a bigger slice of the pie: 1.6 percent of all statewide grants before 2011, and 2.6 percent after.

Whatcom County Council member Sam Crawford has been a board member for six years and the board’s chairman for 1 1/2 years, but individual members don’t sway board decisions that decisively, Crawford said.

“The board role is something more like oversight that the process is fair (and) well distributed, and that the expense of administering and distributing these tax dollars is done fairly,” Crawford wrote in an email to The Bellingham Herald. “But individual board members’ personal expertise, as well as awareness of needs in a given local area, certainly play into the board’s discussion.”