Island County eyes new road to airpark on South Whidbey

A potentially prime location for new, living-wage jobs in Island County sits in the woods toward the end of a windy, private road on South Whidbey; that road may be what’s stifling the area’s potential.

A consultant recently performed a study on the economic development potential at Whidbey Airpark, located on Crawford Road, if the county were to create a public road to access it. Staff presented the findings to the Island County Board of Commissioners Wednesday.

“We’re in one of the best positions we’ve been in, if we’re going to move this forward,” Assistant County Engineer Connie Bowers told commissioners.

Businesses have shown significant interest in moving into the area — which has plenty of room for growth and is one of the few areas on the island with industrial zoning — but state road restrictions prevent further development, Bowers said.

The private road isn’t considered sufficient to support more traffic and has served as a deterrent to some businesses. Large trucks or semis containing products or materials would have a difficult time navigating the twisting private road with its large speed bumps, Bowers said.

Providing public access from the highway to the airpark is in the county’s long-term transportation plan, but there isn’t dedicated funding.

The recent study, which was paid for with a grant, also looked at potential funding sources as well as projecting a new road’s economic impact. The consultant recommended that the county form a road improvement taxing district to fund some of the costs, as well as apply for multiple grants.

One appropriate grant would be the county’s Rural Economic Development Infrastructure program, which is aimed toward creating and retaining jobs in the county, Bowers said.

The consultant estimated that adding a public road to the airpark would add between four and six jobs each year for the 20-year forecast period. The area would also likely generate approximately $800,000 in annual local and state sales tax revenue, according to the report.

Public works staff estimate the new road construction would cost about $5.1 million. The consultant reported that the county would likely see a return on investment within 10 years.

Commissioners told staff to continue preliminary engineering but said they would need more information before exploring ways to fund the project.

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