Olympic Discovery Trail segment reinstated to Clallam County’s six-year transportation plan

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County officials have assuaged concerns of Olympic Discovery Trail advocates by reinstating several trail projects to the six-year transportation plan.

Nine trail supporters testified in favor of last-minute alterations that were made to the proposed 2017-22 Transportation Improvement Program in a public hearing Tuesday.

The revised plan identifies potential grants and other funding that the county expects to receive for future segments of the multipurpose trail that will eventually span the North Olympic Peninsula from Port Townsend to La Push.

After a lengthy discussion in a Monday work session, the three commissioners directed staff to revise the six-year TIP, saying the previous iteration did not convey the board’s strong support for the trail.

Budget ‘makes sense’

County Administrator Jim Jones said the amended plan “adds up” and “makes sense.”

“There is some speculation, but the reality is that’s what budgets are,” Jones said at the hearing.

“Budgets are plans, and the promise that we have to make as a governmental entity is that if we don’t get the money, we can’t spend it.”

Commissioners are expected to adopt the revised transportation plan at their regular meeting next Tuesday.

The new proposal lists 36 funded road and trail projects totaling $35.6 million. Funding for county road projects comes from a variety of local, state and federal sources.

The plan includes the $5.2 million replacement of the Old Olympic Highway bridge over McDonald Creek between Port Angeles and Sequim.

County officials said the bridge replacement will likely require a six-to-eight-month closure of Old Olympic Highway at the bridge, with a detour to U.S. Highway 101 in 2017.

Two speakers raised concerns about a bridge closure at the hearing.

County Engineer Ross Tyler said a series of public meetings about the bridge replacement will be conducted early next year.

The revised transportation plan features seven Olympic Discovery Trail projects west of the Elwha River, including three Spruce Railroad Trail segments for a combined $4.8 million.

The 3.5-mile Spruce Railroad Trail at Lake Crescent will be widened and paved — and two century-old railroad tunnels will be restored — over the next four years, Tyler said.

Longer sections of the trail are already open to the public west of the lake and in the Sol Duc Valley.

The Peninsula Trails Coalition encouraged trail advocates to attend the hearing on the six-year TIP to encourage the board to reinstate the apparent loss of $1.3 million in trail funding.

Trail advocate Andy Stevenson said he was pleased that three ODT projects in the “Joyce gap” between the Elwha River and the Lyre River Trailhead had made it back on the TIP.

“Those are the keys to the Joyce gap, and they all died,” Stevenson said of the previous version of the plan.

“They all died, OK. That gave me heart failure. Ross, I take your word that things are back online, and I appreciate that.”

Jeff Bohman, Peninsula Trials Coalition president, said it was “gratifying to see the level of support and effort and attention that the trail has grown to enjoy over the decades.”

“I applaud the effort that’s been made so quickly to try to more accurately and fully and clearly show how the county can continue to provide the critical level of support you guys have [provided] over the years,” Bohman said.

Bohman encouraged the board to “strike when the iron is hot” and follow through with commitments to purchase trail easements.

“The work that’s been done, even just in the past 24 hours, to restore a clearer indication of those sorts of commitments is absolutely fundamental to the success of the trail and to continue to encourage the level of community support the volunteerism that is a part of what makes this trail work,” Bohman said.

Said trail volunteer Gordon Taylor: “I have been very encouraged by the engagement by the county commissioners in evaluating and helping maintain as much of the funding as practical for this.”

Based on the amount of real estate excise tax requested in the first version of the road department’s 2017 budget, “significant changes” were made to the draft transportation plan after it was unanimously approved by the county planning commission Sept. 21, Tyler said.

“The request was for $3 million of REET [real estate excise tax] money,” Tyler said at the hearing.

“That was not available, so the amount was reduced to $1 million and other considerations in the future. This change required staff to recommend a reduction of the funding of several future Olympic Discovery Trail projects, as well as moving some road projects out to future years.”

The newly amended transportation plan shows all grant funding for projects on the TIP, whether the grants have been received or not, and restores funding for future ODT projects where right-of-way acquisitions have not yet begun.

“It’s not the intent of the road department, nor the board, it appears, to cut these projects,” Tyler said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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