Work on Stewart Road improvements starts this summer

Good news for commuters stuck in traffic on Stewart Road Southeast and state Route 167 — relief is just over that next rise.

After nearly 20 years of funding and planning imbroglios, $4.1 million worth of improvements to Stewart Road in the City of Pacific will be off and running this summer.

According to Interim Public Works Director Kent Barnett, all the people who had to sign off on the design work have done so, and the City has put the project out for contractors to bid on.

Plans call for widening of the much-used thoroughfare – the main access road from state Route 167 to the Lakeland Hills subdivision, and a vital arterial that provides truck access to industrial and trucking businesses in Pacific and Sumner – from the SR 167 interchange to Valentine Avenue. There will be two driving lanes in each direction, and a two-way, middle turn lane. Curbs, gutters and sidewalks will be installed, signals upgraded and new water main and sewer pipe laid.

At its inception in 1996, the project was to be part of the planned, four-phase, Lake Tapps Parkway-Stewart Road corridor.

"Pierce County started this process," Barnett said. "It was to handle all the traffic, especially the planned development of Lakeland Hills. That was when that was really getting started."

Initially, with Pierce County as the lead agency, the larger project called for the replacement of the White River bridge and the construction of the Lake Tapps Parkway.

Although the Parkway was completed, the rest of the project languished for lack of funding.

In 1999, Pacific took over part of the project.

"We finalized all of our annexation of that portion of Pierce County," Barnett said. "Pierce County was going out for money, and it was easier for the City to go out for grants than it was for the county. At that point, it was a combined deal."

At the time, Barnett said, some preliminary design work had been completed, but, with Auburn, Pacific, Sumner and Pierce County all chipping in financially, the scope of the project was then much larger.

"Originally, it was going to go under the railroad tracks and end at the Sumner city line," Barnett said. "But when we got the funding, we didn't have enough money to get to the tracks, so we're basically stopping at Valentine.

"Originally, the funding was primarily coming from the state and the county, with just a small portion from the City," Barnett said. "Now it's all state, TIB [state Transportation Improvement Board] money and public works trust fund money, which is basically a loan. The TIB money is a grant. And there is a small portion from Pierce County."

In addition to delays incurred while the parties hashed out their financial obligations, the project took a recent hit when Pacific's former-mayor Cy Sun tried to make himself its overseer.

"The other hold up was just problems in negotiating. He [Sun] didn't understand the process; it all had to be explained. And that took time. He tried to take control of the project and Valentine. I thought for sure I was going to get fired because I kept butting heads with him. It cost us extra money and time because of what he wanted the engineers to do."

Barnett said Pacific will collect bids on the project for at least six weeks, to let any contractors interested in taking on the Stewart Road and Valentine Avenue projects at the same time submit their bids.

"We're trying to tie it in with the Valentine project, so we're keeping it out a little longer than normal, but six weeks is the minimum," he said.

The City of Sumner is the administrator of the $8 million Valentine project, which has been designed to increase the two-lane road to one lane in each direction with a middle turn lane. It should go out to bid in the next couple of weeks.

But for the Stewart project, it's all down to waiting for the right bid.

"Everything is done," Barnett said. "We lucked out with Stewart Road because we're basically dealing with just Gordon Trucking [on right-of-way acquisitions], and they want the project as much as we do. It's not all signed, sealed and delivered, but it's just dotting the t's and crossing the i's right now."

Barnett added:

"I know when this is all done, with the new HOT lane going in, it should ease some of the congestion."

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