Previous attempts to improve freeway access to northern Lewis County and the Port of Centralia didn’t involve the public until late in the process. So this time, the public has been invited to comment and ask questions early.
Last week, at a public meeting at the Oakview Grange in Centralia, SCJ Alliance consulting services presented information about the North County Industrial Access project and what work will be done in the coming months.
The Lacey-based consultants also answered questions and provided comment cards and questionnaires for the public.
With Lewis County’s allocation of $500,000 from the distressed counties funds, the SCJ Alliance was hired to begin looking at the possibilities to improve access along Interstate 5 north of Centralia to spur economic development.
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“One of the biggest obstacles that we have to bringing living-wage jobs to Lewis County is access to industrial properties off of the I-5 corridor,” said Tim Elsea, director of Lewis County Public Works.
The firm and committees working on the project will determine alternatives to make access better, which could include anything from improving local, existing streets such as Harrison Avenue and state Route 507 to building a new interchange on I-5.
Likely, the solution will include multiple alternatives, SCJ Alliance vice president Eric Johnston said.
Previous studies on improving access in the area date back to the 1980s, SCJ Alliance transportation planning manager Thera Black said.
While additional access points on freeways can increase the opportunity for crashes and prompt the growth of retail and residential areas, which are against the Federal Highway Administration’s goals, the study showed that new access point could relieve truck traffic at Harrison Avenue and at Grand Mound.
“And if a change in highway access could do that and stimulate economic development, that is consistent with Federal Highway’s mission,” Black said.
The firm has been gathering a team of stakeholders to form two committees to consider the possible alternatives.
The steering committee is made up of representatives from Chehalis, Centralia, Tenino, Bucoda, Lewis County, WSDOT, federal highways and economic representatives.
The other committee will be made up of transportation planners and engineers from some of those same agencies to ensure alternatives are technically well-founded and feasible, Johnston said.
One of the challenges with the project will be working with so many different agencies to reach a consensus on a preferred solution, Johnston said.
The Legislature approved $50.5 million for the project starting in 2025.
Updates and a comments section can be found on the project’s recently launched website, lewisindustrialaccess.com.