McChord-Ft. Lewis highway decision expected

TACOMA – The long-debated cross-base highway that would run between McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis may have reached its crossroads.

The Regional Transportation Investment District board is expected to decide this week whether the project will be included in a $17.5 billion November ballot measure that would build highways and expand light rail in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties.

The debate is over whether to include the cross-base highway plan in the package or pay for other improvements to improve congestion in the Frederickson area, east of the military bases.

Improving roads in the area is the preferred option for environmental groups who argue the cross-base project will destroy rare oak prairie, damage wildlife habitat and force the closure of equestrian facilities.

“I think the cross-base highway has become a symbol of what’s wrong with roads,” said Bryan Flint, executive director of the Tahoma Audubon Society. “It has become a rallying point for the environmental community.”

But Pierce County Executive John Landenburg has threatened to veto the transit measure if it doesn’t include plans for the highway.

RTID spokeswoman Charla Neuman told The News Tribune newspaper of Tacoma there is support for a proposal to speed up improvements to 176th Street East instead of building the cross-base highway as originally planned.

“People definitely see the wisdom of having to go this route,” Neuman said.

The current RTID proposal includes $477 million for the highway, but in recent weeks the district has been circulating a plan that would shift $50 million to other Pierce County road projects.

The plan would speed up widening 176th Street and possibly a portion of Canyon Road in the Frederickson area. Those projects are already a priority for Pierce County, though much of the work isn’t scheduled for years.

Under the latest district proposal, work on 176th could begin almost immediately if voters approve the overall measure in November.

Landenburg told The News Tribune last week that if the highway isn’t included in the RTID’s plan, he would step down as chairman of the Sound Transit board, the agency sponsoring the transit portion of the package. Landenburg said he couldn’t lead the board if he opposes the transportation measure.

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