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Momentum builds for I-90 wildlife and safety

Mar 23, 2011
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Mar 21 - Momentum builds for safe passage for wildlife and people near Snoqualmie Pass in the Washington Cascades. The House affirms that the I-90 Project is a priority for transportation and wildilfe.

Momentum builds for I-90 wildlife and safety

House budget allows the I-90 Project to keep the savings accrued during Phase 1 and apply them to Phase 2. That might allow for a first-ever wildlife bridge for the interstate at the Rock Knob. Artist rendition by WDOT

 

Momentum builds for safe passage for wildlife and people on Interstate 90 with a recent promising move by the state House and Senate Transportation Committees approving funding to help complete an important highway project. That's good news for wildlife attempting to cross the interstate and people frequently driving the highway in this important north-south connectivity route through the Cascades.

This next phase adds 1.5 miles of expanded freeway near Keechelus Dam, plus a truck chain-up area and potentially the first wildlife overpass in the state. Funding is also provided for work on the segment along Keechelus Lake, a high avalanche zone, including expanded snowsheds.

Washington State Legislatures House Transportation Committee has proposed a budget that approves the use of savings from the first phase of construction from the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project to build the ready to go next phase (2A). The Senate Transportation Committee released their budget the next day allowing the I-90 project to retain $8 million in savings to complete design of the next phase, but did not fund construction. We’ll continue working with our partners during this session to hold onto the stronger language from the House’s budget during conference to provide funding to both design and build the next phase of this critical project.

WSDOT estimates the next phase (2A) will cost about $52 million, and these funds were previously appropriated in the last legislature. However, because of competitive bidding, the department has already saved $52 million (Phase 1B) and expects to save an additional $60 million in Phase 1C (which goes to bid in April).

The transportation agency had earlier recommended these funds be transferred to other projects, postponing the next phase until 2021. The legislature is letting them know that continuing the momentum already built for safe passage for wildlife and people is a priority for the state.

I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition member groups, including Conservation Northwest and Sierra Club, believe that this project is a high priority for its dramatic improvements to safety, freight movement, and wildlife connectivity. The full $52 million should be allocated to the project from previous project savings this session so work can begin on the ground on this important project as soon as possible.

Substantial benefits

Phase 2A will provide substantial benefits to both transportation and wildlife, and it’s not surprising that it has garnered support from environmental groups, truckers, farmers, wildlife agencies, the US Forest Service and the Kittitas County Commissioners. The wildlife overpass and related fencing will keep animals off the freeway, greatly improving safety on the busiest east-west transportation corridor in the state. With the committees recommendation, work can get started this year, as WSDOT has completed all the environmental reviews and received its permits. If postponed, the project would have to restart or redo much of that work.

We appreciate the leadership of House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island). Ranking Minority Member Mike Armstrong (R-East Wenatchee) has also been a strong supporter of the I-90 Project. The project was a priority for Representative Bill Hinkle of Kittitas County, and west side legislators such as David Frockt of Seattle pushed hard for it as well.  We also appreciate the support for this project in the Senate Transportation Committee shown by Committee Chair Mary Margaret Haugen, Senator Scott White, and Committee Ranking Minority Member Curtis King.  We truly appreciate the broad support for this request, including AAA, Defenders of Wildlife, Washington Potato Commission, Conservation Northwest, Anderson Hay & Grain Co., Sierra Club, Kittitas County, and many others.

For more information contact Jen Watkins.

Resources
House Transportation Committee budget
House Transportation Committee page
More information on the I-90 funding request
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