County, residents seek fix for road to South Whidbey Airpark

A private road that provides access to an airport poses a conundrum for Island County government.

A private road that provides access to an airport, a growing business park and a small community of residents poses a conundrum for Island County government and those who rely on it.

At one end of Crawford Road is a dicey intersection and at the other is a section of dirt and gravel roadway that’s difficult and expensive to maintain, evidenced by the many potholes. Some members of Crawford Road Association, which is made up of both homeowners and businesses, want the county to take ownership of the unpaved part of the road.

The county, meanwhile, has long been planning on building an alternate, safer route to the South Whidbey Airpark.

Both ideas, however, have stumbling blocks.

Assistant County Engineer Ed Sewester said commissioners have asked to discuss the issue more in depth at a future meeting and the department also plans to hold a public open house on Crawford Road once the county has more answers.

Mary Tapp, president of the Crawford Road Association, said the business community has become a victim of its own success. The light-industrial-zoned area adjacent to the South Whidbey Airpark is bustling with activity from a diverse range of 14 businesses, which includes a coffee roaster, a pickle maker, a heat pump installer and an event venue.

While the residents don’t begrudge the businesses their entrepreneurial spirit, Tapp said, they have noticed a significant increase in traffic, particularly trucks making deliveries. Much of the traffic comes from the Langley side, which connects to Brooks Hill Road which in turn conveniently leads to Bayview Road.

About a quarter mile at the north end of Crawford Road, connecting to Brooks Hill Road, is gravel. Tapp said the association works with a contractor to dump tons of material and run a grader over the surface multiple times each year. Nevertheless, the maintenance work doesn’t keep up with the need.

Paving the quarter-mile unpaved section is too costly for the association, Tapp said, so members have asked the county to take ownership of the road and update it. The problem, however, is a county code that requires the road be up to county standards before the county can accept it.

County leaders said they didn’t know, without doing further research, whether the requirement can be waived. At a recent commissioner meeting, Commissioner Jill Johnson said the code makes sense since the county shouldn’t have to bail out homeowners associations or businesses that don’t maintain their responsibilities. On the other hand, she said Crawford Road might be a special case if it’s become a de facto public road.

Commissioner Melanie Bacon said she’s sympathetic to the plight of the residents, whom she said are in the situation because of decisions made long ago by county leaders. The area of the airpark was zoned to become a light industrial park even though it’s served only by a narrow, hilly private road.

Public usage of the road has grown to a point, Bacon said, where a private association can’t reasonably maintain it.

On its southern end, meanwhile, Crawford Road connects to Highway 525 in an awkward intersection that traffic engineers have deemed to be precarious, according to Bacon.

The state Department of Transportation’s crash data shows that car accidents — including several with fatal and serious injuries — have occurred at or near the intersection every year except one since 2014, which is when the data begins. Two serious accidents with injuries occurred last year.

Sewester said poor sight lines and an offset intersection contribute to the problems. He explained that building a new access road from the highway to the airpark has long been on the county’s Six Year Transportation Improvement Plan, but it’s been pushed back many times. The plan currently calls for it to be built in 2029.

The county plans to extend nearby Craw Road north of Highway 525 to the airpark, although the exact course hasn’t been figured out. Sewester said the biggest obstacle has been finding landowners in the area. If it’s built, it would likely have to go through parkland owned by South Whidbey Parks and Recreation.

The county’s six-year plan estimates the cost of engineering, the purchasing of right-of-way and construction at $5.5 million. Sewester said the county may be able to obtain grant money to fund the new road, which is both a safety and economic development project.

While economics may necessitate a public road, Tapp said there are definite benefits to a privately owned road, especially in a woodsy community where people like to walk. The association doesn’t have to follow county codes on things like road width, shoulders and drainage, which makes road construction much less expensive. It also means residents can install whatever traffic-calming measures or speed limit signs they want.

Crawford Road is a narrow and hilly private road. (Photo by David Welton)

Crawford Road is a narrow and hilly private road. (Photo by David Welton)

Photo by David Welton

Crawford Road is a narrow and hilly private road. (Photo by David Welton)