Opinion

Legislature should invest in I-5/Slater Road interchange, safer roads for Whatcom residents

The Lummi Nation’s role in the community doesn’t end at the boundaries of the reservation. That’s why the Lummi Nation has always invested in making Whatcom County a safe place to live, work and raise a family.

As the top employer in our county, we know that keeping traffic moving is critical to our area economy. The Washington State Legislature has an opportunity to make a real difference for our community by funding the top transportation priority in Whatcom County. The I-5/Slater Road Interchange has been identified as deficient because of high traffic congestion and not enough capacity to handle all the cars and commuters. It’s the main access point to two of Whatcom County’s top employers, Lummi Nation and Cherry Point Refineries. The Legislature should take action this session to increase public safety and reduce traffic congestion in our community by fully funding the interchange project.

The Lummi Nation coordinated with Ferndale, Bellingham and Whatcom County, and contributed $70,000 to build temporary roundabouts to calm traffic and increase safety at the interchange for our families, neighbors and employees. But this is a temporary solution and permanent roundabouts are needed immediately. The Whatcom Council of Governments has identified permanent improvements at the I-5/Slater Road Interchange as its top priority and we at Lummi Nation stand ready to assist with realizing these improvements. We have already committed more than $500,000 toward the project and completed the draft of the Interchange Justification Report. The report identified current use of the interchange at 70,000 cars per day and factored in projected usage from a new county jail site, the diverted traffic from the new Costco development and expansion of the Silver Reef Casino. The unknowns have also been identified through this report and we will have permits in hand for four of the five roundabouts by December of this year. The permanent roundabouts will add capacity for 20 years and have been identified as the least expensive of all the options identified by the Washington Department of Transportation.

Since 2010, the Lummi Nation has invested more than $8.5 million in area traffic and pedestrian improvements. These projects created more than 150 jobs and helped to make our community safer. We’ve been able to make real progress in improving traffic and pedestrian access because Lummi has a record of success in bringing forward shovel-ready construction projects. In 2010, Lummi constructed a pedestrian path at Haxton Way, providing a walking and biking option for commuters and residents. This two-mile path came in under budget, on time and received awards from the Federal Highway Administration and WSDOT for project delivery. Most importantly, the project has reduced fatalities on this major arterial to zero. Our history of successfully completing projects will ensure we don’t lose any momentum with the I-5 improvements.

Continued progress is key for a fast-growing community. Construction of the new Whatcom County jail and Sheriff’s headquarters and regional growth will put pressure on an already crowded, high-traffic area. We need to take action now to ensure fast emergency response and improved access.

A portion of Whatcom County’s gas tax funds transportation projects across Washington. As a donor county, we currently receive $.30 per every dollar we contribute. Whatcom should be allowed to put our dollars to work for good projects here at home. Full funding in 2015 is needed or we’ll see the I-5/Slater Road Interchange project slowed, and our families and workers can’t afford to wait for safer roads.

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