No one ever said progress would be painless. Major civic improvements, especially complicated infrastructure projects fraught with competing concerns and the specter of displacement and eminent domain, call for heightened sensitivity toward stakeholders but also cognizance of the greater good serviced at completion.
And so it goes with the long-planned, much-anticipated East-West Corridor project linking Terrace Heights and Yakima, a two-decade quest to ease traffic congestion by constructing a road and bridge over the Yakima River and Interstate 82.
Years of planning and surveying , mulling options and fielding concerns, have passed and now, at last, the project seems less abstract and entirely more concrete. In fact, barring unexpected developments, concrete should begin pouring within the year. And because the corridor seemed merely theoretical for so long, it has not been top-of-mind to affected residents.
Well, it is now.
For the past few weeks, the various governmental entities involved — Yakima County, state Department of Transportation, city of Yakima — have been fending off objections and defending the process from several soon-to-be-displaced residents east of I-82, most notably 75-year-old Lynn Cosmos, whose self-sustaining “sanctuary” was scheduled to be razed.
Cosmos’ plight became a minor cause celeb, gaining sympathy from a coalition of land-rights and personal-freedom proponents and those questioning the need and aesthetic qualities of putting a major boulevard in a mostly sparsely populated locale. Cosmos, eventually, was assuaged and agreed to move to a nice spread in West Valley.
The dustup not only got tongues wagging about how Cosmos reportedly had been treated but also about the necessity of the
$165 million project.
Short answer: Yes, it’s needed.
Longer answer: Some 18 years ago, Yakima County commissioned a feasibility study into the corridor project and carefully weighed four routes. The plans have been periodically updated and, in 2011, the planning consulting firm hired by the county cited a five-fold increase in population in Terrace Heights over three decades as proof an alternate route was needed. That was not news to those who routinely wind up backed up in traffic on Terrace Heights Drive between the Yakima River and the I-82 junction.
Thus, in 2012, after a lengthy period of public input, county commissioners decided on a route and continued seeking funding. Now that construction is set for this fall, people are paying attention again.
And that’s a good thing — to a point. The public needs to be kept informed every step of the way in an undertaking of such magnitude, and the county has mostly lived up to its obligation. Truth is, some grousing is to be expected. Construction disrupts people’s lives. They tend to think of the immediate inconvenience rather than the long-term benefits.
As with other hot-button issues in the city — most notably the construction of a permanent homeless facility adjacent the Yakima Greenway and so-called “tiny houses” for low income people near 16th and West Lincoln avenues — it’s well-nigh impossible to please every constituency.
Cosmos and a few other displaced residents and businesses have been asked to sacrifice (though they have been duly compensated) so that the vast majority of Upper Valley residents will benefit. The long-dormant Boise Cascade mill site west of the freeway would be more attractive to development with a major arterial funneling traffic. And traffic not just in Terrace Heights but also on Yakima Avenue downtown figures to be lessened by the East-West Corridor. It gives motorists another arterial option to access West Valley. Also included is an expansion of the relatively short on-ramps onto I-82 at Yakima Avenue, a safety improvement for those merging onto the freeway.
That traffic easing will help bicyclists and pedestrians who currently face safety issues on the busy avenue — and, hopefully, the new construction will include spacious bike lanes along the corridor in both directions.
What’s more, the new bridge over the river and overpass on I-82 can be a signature, warm and inviting, “Welcome to Yakima” statement. Much as we adore the kitsch value of the hand-painted “Palm Springs of Washington” sign that elicits chuckles from visitors and residents alike, a well-designed, architecturally distinct bridge — perhaps even featuring artwork — might go a long way to enhancing the city’s image.
Valid complaints aside, a handsome, functional and smart corridor truly would be progress for Yakima.