Overpass named to honor an Arlington civic leader

SMOKEY POINT — The name of one of Arlington’s better-known civic leaders will be linked forever with one of the biggest projects he worked on.

This week, the state Transportation Commission unanimously approved naming the I-5 overpass at 172nd Street NE the “Oliver ‘Punks’ Smith Interchange” to honor the longtime city councilman and community activist, who died in 2006.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Emily Smith, his widow. She said her four grown children are excited and honored their father’s name will be tied to the overpass at Exit 206.

Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, spent the last two years pushing the request through the Legislature.

In February, the House of Representatives passed his resolution supporting the change 94-0. In March, he and state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, formally requested commissioners act.

Wednesday, Pearson told commissioners immortalizing someone in this manner is typically reserved for “real famous people” like presidents and governors.

“In our case in north Snohomish County, Oliver ‘Punks’ Smith was just an average person” who made an extraordinary contribution, he said.

Smith, a native of Arlington, served on its City Council for 20 years until retiring in 2003.

His name is linked with helping oversee the airport, completing the Arlington Community Youth Center and improving the city’s economic base.

His noted achievement came in uniting civic and business leaders and residents in Marysville and Arlington to come up with the money to widen the former two-lane overpass.

In 2003, the communities learned the Legislature did not include the widening in the list of projects to be funded with that year’s nickel increase in the gas tax.

Smith then helped create the Transportation Relief Action Plan committee with members from the two cities. Through pushing and prodding, the group raised nearly $10 million from local, state and federal sources to pay for the project. The work was finished in 2004.

“He inspired me and we did the impossible,” Becky Foster, a committee member and Arlington resident, told commissioners.

After the meeting, Foster recalled saying at the celebration of the finished widening project that civic leaders wanted Smith’s name on the structure.

“It feels so good,” she said.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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