Now that summer has finally made it to Whidbey Island, it’s time for road construction to begin.
It will actually be a light year when it comes to bona- fide road construction projects, but Island County’s paving and oiling program begins in earnest this week.
For the first time this year, the county public works department has started a website tool that maps out the areas earmarked for paving and chip sealing, together with weekly updates of the work schedule. It can be accessed at islandcounty.net/publicworks/index.htm.
It may be inconvenient and smell funny, but county engineers say it’s crucial work.
“The whole goal of the program is to extend the surface life of the road,” Joe Araucto, county construction engineer, said.
The two forms of paving maintenance that the county uses are asphalt overlays and chip seals. Lakeside Industries won the lowest bid at $1.4 million to do the overlays. County crews will do the chip sealing, which is basically oil and rock.
The state Department of Transportation has no road construction planned for Whidbey this year, outside of guard rail and rumble strip projects. The county’s $10 million annual construction program includes a handful of larger projects, but it’s unclear how many will begin this year.
The most expensive project on the list is an estimated $3.2 million project on 1.4 miles of Frostad Road. Araucto explained that the work will stabilize a slope, that has historically been a problem slide area, with retaining walls. Also, the shoulder will be widened and a couple of curves will be made safer.
Araucto said the department is still waiting on environmental permitting, but he hopes to go out to bid on the project this year. Construction may take place later this year or next year.
Another project that may or may not get done this year is a shoulder widening on West Beach Road, from Sandusky to Sunset Beach. The quarter-mile project is estimated to cost about $350,000.
The project has generated some controversy with local residents and the wider community. Araucto said the county plans to hold a third public workshop on the project this summer to help alleviate some of the concerns. He said it will likely go to bid later this year, but he’s not sure if construction will also start this year.
The project is near county Commissioner Angie Homola’s home, which has led some to speculate that she pushed the project for personal reasons. But in reality, the county has been planning to do the safety-related project for at least six years, long before she took office. Both Homola and her husband have voiced concerns about the project. Many of the trees along the road will have to be removed; Homola said they acted as buffers from sand, traffic noise and headlights for homes in the area.
Additionally, Homola has asked public works to delay the project to see if the recent lowering of speed limits on the road will solve the problem. But ultimately, Homola said she followed the county engineer’s advice that the project was vital to public safety.
Araucto said the widening project will make the width of the section of road consistent with the rest of the road. For the first time, the county will use a pervious surface, which is more environmentally friendly, on the shoulder of the road.
This year, the county will spend an estimated $3.4 million on county roads, which amounts to about 0.1 percent of the $2.9 billion value of the 588 miles of roads, the county reports.