Slowly — as in seemingly at a glacial pace — U.S. Highway 12 from Walla Walla to the Tri-Cities is becoming a four-lane highway.
It’s been several years since any significant construction has occurred, although we’ve heard a lot of chatter from Olympia over the years that indeed the project is still moving forward. We in the Walla Walla Valley have been conditioned to believe it when we see it. This project has had more bumps and ruts since 2003 than Bryant Avenue after a heavy freeze.
And perhaps our collective skepticism about a completed four-lane highway coming to fruition is why many believed the erroneous reports that Gov. Jay Inslee’s push to open culverts for salmon passage was going to siphon money away from Highway 12 construction. U-B reporter Andy Porter looked into the matter and had several reliable sources, all on the record, who confirmed that Highway 12 funding is secure and the next round of construction is on track for next year.
Summer Derrey, Washington state Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said the funds for our local road construction are not impacted by the governor’s cash diversion. She said that Phase 7 of the Highway 12 widening project, which will widen the highway to four lanes from Nine Mile Hill west of Touchet to Frenchtown, is set to go to bid later this year.
“We are on track for construction in 2020, and the project was not affected by the recent fish passage funding,” Derrey said.
State Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla, was equally clear. He said the governor is directing the Department of Transportation to increase culvert repairs by executive order and Inslee does not have legal authority to reduce the scope of the Highway 12 project or stand in the way of the project moving forward.
Several stretches of roadway have already been upgraded to four lanes of traffic, but several sections of the highway remains two-lanes. Passing, even by the most careful drivers, can be scary. The entire route needs to be made four lanes.
Those of us who drive this roadway on a regular basis understand the potential for disaster and generally display patience and good judgment. However, a variety of factors play into accidents — some of them beyond the control of the driver.
This is why local officials and community leaders have been working so hard over the years to the convince the state Legisalture, as well as Congress, to four-lane the entire stretch of highway. The local U.S. Highway 12 Coalition (ushighway12.com) has been amazing. The stretch from the Wallua to Burbank is now four lanes and so is the highway from just east of Lowden into Walla Walla.
Getting the next phase completed, which will connect the four-lanes from Walla Walla to Nine Mill Hill, will enhance safety and make the trip to and from Tri-Cities a bit shorter.
The sooner the better.