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Controversial highway project continues to attract opposition

Conservationists, local businesses, and citizens still oppose new highway construction across rare and endangered prairie habitat

Prairie proponents attended a ceremony marking completion of a first step in the proposed Cross-Base Highway's construction, reminding decision makers that the highway would decimate the largest remnant oak-woodland prairie left in western Washington. Completion of the highway is still in doubt.

Aug 26, 2009

This morning, opponents of the Cross-Base Highway (SR 704) showed up to an event intended to celebrate the completion of the first phase of the controversial project in Pierce County.  The Washington Department of Transportation hosted the event as the completion of the first section of the Cross-Base Highway and introduction of the first new state route since 1997.

The project has drawn strong opposition since its inception, because it would bisect the largest remnant oak woodland-prairie left in western Washington and drive out local equestrian businesses.  Opponents also are concerned the project would encourage undesirable sprawl and waste taxpayer money on building an expensive new highway when less expensive alternatives have not been seriously considered.  

“While the Spanaway Loop Road improvements are very much needed, politicians are making empty promises about building a road we can’t afford and we don’t need,” stated Bryan Flint, Executive Director of Tahoma Audubon.

Voters rejected Proposition 1 in November 2007, which included funding for the Cross-Base Highway.  Funding for traffic improvement to the intersection at Pacific Ave (SR 7) and 176th Ave has come from the State transportation budget, but there is no funding available for the next phase of the proposed construction of the new highway.  “In these tough economic times, it is highly questionable to be planning for construction of a destructive new highway in Washington State when we cannot find the dollars to maintain our existing road system,” said Jen Watkins of Conservation Northwest.  “Taxpayers are taking note of these irresponsible decisions.”

The proposed Cross-Base Highway would be a four-lane, six-mile brand new highway that would run along the northern border of Fort Lewis in Pierce County bisecting one of the last remaining oak prairie woodlands in western Washington.  The unique oak woodland-prairies, today the rarest habitat type in Washington State, once covered nearly 150,000 acres across the south Puget Sound lowlands. Today, because of development, agriculture, and other factors, only about 3 percent remains.

The proposed highway still faces multiple unresolved legal issues on its environmental analysis and was repeatedly held up as a bad example and low priority for funding during the discussions around the failed Roads and Transit ballot measure in 2007. 

”The Cross-Base project is just as bad for habitat, sprawl, and greenhouse gas emissions now as it was when voters rejected the funding package in 2007,” stated Tim Gould of the Sierra Club Cascade Chapter’s Transportation Committee. 

He continued that “at a time when we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and adjust to future rising energy prices, the proposed Cross-Base Highway would move us in the wrong direction.”

In a 2003 public poll on regional transportation planning and projects contracted by the Regional Transportation Investment District, the Cross-Base Highway ranked last of all proposed Pierce County projects, with only 10% of those polled stating it was a project of importance to the region.  “There are many Pierce County projects on the table that have widespread support and are crucial for regional mobility,” stated Rob Johnson, Executive Director of Transportation Choices Coalition. “We should focus limited taxpayer dollars on completing 167, extending the Pierce County HOV network, and supporting local transit agencies.”

“The bottom line is that we cannot support wasting taxpayer dollars on a project that destroys some of the last remaining oak woodland prairie in western Washington, especially when reasonable alternatives exist,” commented Dave Werntz, Science and Conservation Director of Conservation Northwest.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service believes that the remaining South Puget Sound prairies may be possibly the rarest habitat in North America, home to at least 29 species of federal and/or state threatened, endangered, candidate and sensitive plant and animal species of concern, 18 of which are in the immediate vicinity of the proposed Cross-Base Highway. 


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