Connector road project planning continues

San Juan County Engineer Colin Huntemer will return to the drawing board for the connector road project at the behest of the county council.

During the council’s meeting on Feb. 19, Huntemer presented the project that, up until the meeting, appeared to him to be in its final form.

“That was a project that was conceived that was going to be constructed by county forces. … Also, we wanted to circle back with the town to understand their expectations of the county to make sure we’re on the same page,” Huntemer said. “That’s what [the Town of Friday Harbor] expects the county to build. That was the commitment that they feel like was made to them. That’s the way this project was presented in 2017, and that’s how this project is going to move forward.”

Huntemer’s plan included beginning constructing a 30-foot-wide road, with 11-foot lanes and 4-foot shoulders, and to include a semi truck U-turn on Turn Point Road. A redesign of a 2017 plan was needed when it was discovered that site materials were not suitable for building a road.

“That is about $200,000 more than we were anticipating in 2017,” Huntemer said. “That’s the added cost of using material on site versus importing the material by contractor.”

The proposed budget for the project Huntemer presented to the council was $525,000 for building the road, which includes the added price of importing materials, and then $75,000 for a chip seal that would occur in 2020, six to eight months after construction of the road was completed. The six-year transportation improvement plan adopted by council in November 2018 allocated $520,000 for the project. The budget would have to be amended.

“As part of this new design with imported material, we want to recommend that the road remain gravel through a winter season so we can … make sure it doesn’t move on us before chip seal in 2020,” Huntemer said.

The discussion of the design hit a speed bump, however, when Councilmember Bill Watson aired his concern with the design of a U-turn area on Turn Point Road as opposed to a full-fledged roundabout.

“My view it needs to be done correctly, it needs to be done once,” Watson said.

According to Huntemer, the potential for a roundabout being built there is a bridge future private developers would have to consider crossing should they chose to develop in the area. He added that constructing a roundabout was not part of the deal between the county and the town.

“There’s no roundabout being constructed with this project,” Huntemer said. “They expect us to build a road and provide a truck U-turn spot to access the road and turn around. That’s it.”

Watson said he has voiced concerns over the past six months about the safety of a semi truck making a U-turn across the lane of travel of oncoming traffic.

“I view it as that’s the scope of the county responsibilities,” Watson said, adding that the current design doesn’t seem like a safe solution. “I’m not a road engineer, I’m not the expert here.”

Council chairperson Jamie Stephens and member Rick Hughes conceded to Watson’s request that Huntemer should consider the costs of completing a roundabout at the proposed U-turn location and presenting that to the council.

“It’s not like I can’t design, construct and tell you how much it is to build a roundabout,” Huntemer said. “It’s a lot more expensive [than] the scope of this project. I don’t have a project going forward this year if the scope of this project is to build a roundabout here.”

County manager Mike Thomas, too, agreed with the council’s request to look into roundabout alternatives.

“We’ll take a look at this and we’ll come back to council with some geometry, a minimalist design and a cost estimate,” he said.

History of the proposed road

The purpose of the road, named Missing Mountain Road, is to divert semi traffic off of narrow Warbass Way – this includes fuel and propane trucks brought to the island via barges to Shipyard Cove Marina on Turn Point. When the semi truck drivers exit the marina, they will be able to turn around at a U-turn on Turn Point Road and take the new route to Pear Point to enter the town. It will also provide additional access to a proposed affordable housing neighborhood in the area.

The road was reportedly verbally promised to the Town of Friday Harbor by the county as part of an agreement between the two entities sometime in the 1990s. Town of Friday Harbor Administrator Duncan Wilson told the Journal in September 2017 the agreement was, if town helped to alleviate the county’s affordable housing needs by annexing land, the county would build the connector road to ease traffic increases.