As most of you know, we have experienced another tragedy in the Kendall/Columbia Valley community with the death of 14-year-old bicyclist Jordan Sant on the Kendall Highway (SR547). What many do not know is that we have lost other members of our community while walking and bicycling along this dangerous stretch of highway. It is a dark stretch of road with very narrow shoulders.
Approximately 4,000 residents, of which 1,000 are children, live in a densely populated area along this highway. In this community, many residents do not own automobiles and must rely of bicycles or their own feet to navigate to necessary services such as convenience stores, library, the East Whatcom Regional Resource Center, churches and local elementary school. Mothers without cars can be regularly seen pushing baby strollers with other small children in tow along this stretch of state highway, which is littered with white crosses marking the place of the death of our loved ones from previous accidents. These people can be seen carrying groceries from the convenience store 1 to 2 miles away from their homes.
This connecting trail is not for recreational purposes, it will not only save lives but will also benefit the health and economy of the community.
This crisis needs a solution now! The lack of a safe path for bikers and pedestrians along this highway has been a known problem for years. We cannot wait for more deaths and memorial services before we address this community need.
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A group of local citizens organized several years ago to advocate for change related to unsafe conditions pertaining to this roadway. Important progress has been made. A dysfunctional junction of Mt. Baker Scenic Highway (SR542) and Kendall Highway to Sumas (SR547) has been replaced with a safe roundabout. The speed limit on portions of Kendall Highway has been reduced from 55 mph to 45 mph. New flashing lights, signage and a reduced speed limit have been installed in front of Kendall Elementary School. All of this progress was possible with the technical help of the Whatcom County Health Department, Washington State Department of Transportation and the Whatcom Council of Governments, and Sen. Doug Ericksen. But, safe passage for our residents to essential services remains unsolved.
Local residents have formed a non-profit organization, the Kendall/Columbia Valley Connectivity Plan Association, which has initiated design work for a multi-use, non-motorized bike and pedestrian trail. With the help of a representative from the National Park Service, we were chosen by the Washington American Society of Landscape Architects to receive their annual award of the volunteer professional help of 10 of their members. In April, 2015, with a grant from the Whatcom Community Foundation and the non-profit sponsorship of the Whatcom Park and Recreation Foundation, 10 professional landscape architects, members from Kendall/Columbia Valley Connectivity Plan Association and the Foothills community were able to engage in a two-day trail design process. Since this event, we have been refining our final draft design.
What is needed now is the political will to include this project in budgets at the county and state levels. Rep. Luanne Van Werven has graciously submitted an application to the House Capital Budget Committee for monies to secure an engineering and design plan that is necessary for any grant application. In that the Columbia Urban Growth Area does not have a city government, the county executive is our equivalent to our mayor and the County Council our city council. Kendall Highway (SR547) is a state highway. We need both Whatcom County and the state of Washington to own the resolution to this problem created many years ago by shortsighted planning. The new East Whatcom Regional Resource Center has been an important step forward for the community. However, because of the lack of a safe bike and pedestrian trail, there is no safe way for many of the local residents without cars to take advantage of the current facility or the newly proposed food bank and youth recreation center.
This connecting trail is not for recreational purposes but is just a common-sense need, which will not only save lives but will also benefit the health and economy of the community. We have noticed that WSDOT is spending millions of dollars to secure safe passage for fish and wildlife in the foothills of the Cascades. We are simply asking that children and mothers pushing strollers to essential services in our community be added to the list for a secure future.
As our application is being considered in the House Capital Budget Committee, we are appealing to all people of good will who continue to hold to the universal ideal of “loving your neighbor as yourself” to join us in support of our initial application for engineering and design funds and the final resolution to this critical need within our county.
For more information about Kendall/Columbia Valley Connectivity Plan Association and the contact information for the House Capital Budget Committee go to our website kendalltrail.weebly.com.
Charlie Burleigh is superintendent of Mount Baker School District; Jerry DeBruin is chief of Whatcom County Fire District 14; and Vern Yadon is support officer and chairman of Kendall/Columbia Valley Connectivity Plan Association board of directors.