WENATCHEE — A costly new road that would bypass North Wenatchee Avenue and require another bridge over the Wenatchee River is gaining support from city and regional officials and may have a chance for partial state funding next year.
The Wenatchee City Council gave its support for the project on Thursday and will ask elected officials in surrounding communities to do the same in order to better the chances of getting funding, which could cost as much as $200 million.
The Wenatchee Valley Transportation Council, which sets priorities for how state and federal road money should be spent in the area, voted recently to set the bypass route — called Confluence Parkway — as its top priority once the Sellar Bridge and Eastmont Avenue projects are completed this year.
If the project is going to move forward, “it will really take a clear message from the city of Wenatchee,” including the City Council and the broader community, said Jeff Wilkens, the council’s executive director.
The bypass would roughly parallel North Wenatchee Avenue on the east side of the railroad tracks and run between the Valley North Center area and Olds Station. It would require at least one new underpass under railroad tracks as well as a new bridge across the Wenatchee River.
It would be a two-lane, two-direction road.
The estimated costs are $160 million to $200 million
Wilkens said the project could get $50 million to $62 million in funding next year for the first phase, which would do significant work at the convergence of Wenatchee Avenue, Miller Street and Chelan Avenue near Valley North Center.
“I call it the Bermuda Triangle,” Councilman Karen Rutherford said, referring to the area around the former Del’s Triangle service station.
“We call it Malfunction Junction,” added Public Works Director Dan Frazier.
Wilkens said the bypass route was adopted into the council’s long-range transportation plan in 2011. Now that work is nearing an end on the Sellar Bridge and also on the Eastmont Avenue extension in East Wenatchee, he said relieving congestion on North Wenatchee Avenue is the next most pressing need for the region.
He said it would be complicated to thread a road between the railroad tracks and the waterfront trail system in places. He said it will require numerous public meetings to gain support. There has been talk of possibly moving the railroad tracks in Olds Station and moving a section of the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail, which would then run alongside the bypass road for a distance.
He said the northern entrance to Wenatchee sees 35,000 cars a day and that is expected to grow to more than 52,000 a day by 2028 if little is done to ease congestion. If the bypass is built, the traffic numbers on North Wenatchee Avenue are projected to drop to 28,000 cars a day by 2028.
“Without it, you basically stifle growth,” Wilkens told the City Council.
A technical committee of engineers from cities and counties in the region have reviewed the project and deemed it the top transportation priority. But elected officials in those communities also need to get behind it in order for it have a good chance of funding, he said.
Other projects in the region that could compete with the bypass for funding include a proposal to widen Highway 28 in East Wenatchee between 9th Street and 23rd Street and replacing the Goodwin Bridge over the Wenatchee River in Cashmere.
He said the state Senate transportation committee will meet in Wenatchee on Sept. 23, and it would be good for a delegation of local officials to go and speak in favor of the project. Wilkens will make a presentation on the project to the committee.
“If we don’t think it’s something we might want, now is the time to say we shouldn’t go down that path,” Mayor Frank Kuntz told the City Council. “Because this is the start of that path.”
Kuntz cautioned, though, that if the project is not done, more businesses may move out of the city to areas that are more easily accessible.
“I think this is the right project and I think it’s the right time for us to step up and say it’s our time for a project,” he said. “We’ve dealt with the Sellar Bridge and this is the next spot.”