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Save the view
Transportation officials are hoping the two highways stretching the length of Whidbey Island will join notable roadways such as the Pacific Coast Highway and the remnants of Route 66 as a National Scenic Byway.
But first officials have to spend the next 12 to 18 months developing a master plan for Highways 525 and 20.
What were trying to do is inventory the resources that we have, said Mike Morton, transportation planner for Island County.
To do that, the county has to get state and federal officials to sign off on the project, hire a consultant and form a citizens advisory committee to help inventory highway areas based on their natural, scenic, cultural, historic or recreational significance.
Developing the master plan, called Scenic Corridor Management Plan, is the first step to getting the highway designated as a National Scenic Byway by the Federal Highway Administration.
There are 95 such byways designated throughout the United States. Washington state currently has three National Scenic Byways State Route 410 from Enumclaw to Naches, Interstate 90 from Seattle to Thorp and State Route 112 west of Port Angeles.
Highways 20 and 525 are already designated as a state Scenic Byway. Morton said that designation came in 1967 and is one of the reasons motorists dont see many billboards along the highway.
Morton added that he plans to enlist help from the business community, state park officials, and people from recreation and environmental groups to comprise the advisory committee.
In addition to documenting the intrinsic qualities of the highway, the plan will also propose a number of ways to preserve the islands small town, rural character, according to a grant application submitted to the Scenic Byways Program.
Morton said that relevant projects could range from improving signage and the safety of the highway, to purchasing conservation easements to help preserve scenic overlooks.
By having the highway designated as a scenic byway, the county would become eligible to receive federal money to fund projects that improve the highway, Morton said.
Officials putting the management plan together will also have to plan for added impacts of more people visiting the island because of its federal designation.
Its a double-edged sword, Morton said. You want more tourists, but you dont want more traffic.
Planners will look into a variety of alternatives such as enhancing public transportation, develop walking trails and bike trails and increase park and ride options.
To fund the work, the county is expecting to receive $70,000 in federal money to go with the countys $24,000 contribution.
Morton added the ideal is to make sure the highway corridor is planned and does not end up looking like the infamous Highway 99 in the Lynnwood area.
You can reach News-Times reporter Nathan Whalen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 675-6611.