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Highway tops pier in grant request

Oak Harbor City Council members unanimously decided Tuesday to pursue a $1 million grant for a highway widening project instead of seeking money from the same fund for the municipal pier project.

And everybody is OK with that.

City Development Services Director Steve Powers offered the council the choice of two possible projects that may qualify for funding from the Island County Regional Transportation Planning Organization.

The organization has $1.76 million in federal transportation funds to divvy out for the 2006-2007 funding cycle. The Island County RTPO provides funding for “regionally significant” transportation projects throughout the county.

Powers said the construction of the municipal pier and widening of Highway 20 between Beeksma Drive and Swantown Avenue are both top-priority projects for the city. He suggested that the city could apply for a $1 million grant to either fund the engineering and environmental permitting phase of the highway project; or to fund part of the $6 million pier construction project.

The important difference, he said, is that the highway project is more likely to be funded. The RTPO ranking criteria looks at things like “safety enhancements.” The highway project would score well, while the pier may not.

Even the loyal members of the pier committee agreed that applying for the highway project was the better option.

“It boils down to, how does the city have the best chance of bringing home the $1 million,” said Harbormaster Dave Williams, the city’s representative on the pier committee.

“I’m perfectly OK with not getting that $1 million,” for the pier, committee member Helen Chatfield-Weeks said. “I can see the good it would do for the highway.”

Williams said the city has a better chance of obtaining funding for the pier from the federal government. City officials have been very active lobbying elected officials in Washington D.C. for pier money. Mayor Patty Cohen recently spoke with Congressman Rick Larsen about the issue.

Powers said the Highway 20 project would cost about $10.5 million total. The includes $1 million for engineering and environmental permitting, $2.5 million to purchase right-of-way property and $7 million for construction.

The state Department of Transportation is largely responsible for Highway 20 within the city. Powers said DOT officials have expressed willingness to work with the city in widening and improving the congested span of road. The city and DOT completed a $30,000 corridor study on a section of the highway last year.

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