UNION GAP — A project aiming to establish a truck freight route through Union Gap has taken its first step toward reality, thanks to a $6.6 million federal grant.

Called the Regional Beltway Connector, the $17.9 million project focuses on linking Ahtanum, Goodman and Longfibre roads near the south end of Union Gap into a truck freight route with access to Interstate 82 and U.S. Highway 97.

The project ties into another

$34.4 million project headed by the state Department of Transportation — the South Union Gap Interchange. That project, funded by the state, is rebuilding the Interstate 82 and U.S. Highway 97 interchanges in south Union Gap and is expected to be completed this fall.

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., announced the grant for the truck route project. The funding came from the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant program established by Cantwell, the ranking member of the Senate Transportation Committee.

“Yakima is a critical part of Washington’s juggernaut export economy, helping us lead the way in agriculture, wine, and manufacturing. If we want to keep growing these jobs, we need to decrease congestion and ensure that freight can get to market. This grant will do that right in Union Gap,” Cantwell said in a news release announcing the grant.

Union Gap Public Works and Community Development Director Dennis Henne said the grant drastically increases chances of securing funds from other state and federal sources.

“It definitely pushed the project to the next level,” he said. “It makes for more interest for other partners to jump into it. No one likes to be the first in, so now we have more visibility and this will definitely accelerates the project.”

Union Gap has already spent $3.65 million to complete the first phase of the project, which extended Longfibre Road south to a roundabout that connects Goodman Road built a bridge over Ahtanum Creek. Another road will extend from the roundabout eastward and connect to the new I-82 interchange and U.S. 97.

Design work on the rest of the Beltway project is nearly complete and construction is expected to begin in the fall of 2023, Henne said.

Establishing the truck route and improved access to the highway and interstate will improve traffic flows at the Valley Mall interchange, where freight trucks often mix with commuting and shopping traffic, he said.

About 3,400 trucks haul freight through the Valley Mall interchange daily, city officials have said.

Improving access to the interstate and the highway from south Union Gap will allow trucks to bypass much city traffic, DOT and city officials said.

As of now, motorists traveling east on I-82 cannot access south Union Gap and there is no access to I-82 from that area if heading west.

“So this project will provide that,” said DOT spokeswoman Summer Derrey. “These projects are very complimentary.”

Cantwell wrote a letter in September supporting federal funding for the Beltway project. U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray also supported funding for the project.

Reach Phil Ferolito at pferolito@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @philipferolito