Burley-Olalla gets one-year boost

After weeks of wrangling, the much-discussed Burley-Olalla/State Route 16 interchange did win a spot on this year’s transportation budget, but lost half its benefit in the process.

The line item that appears in the supplementary transportation budget approved by the state Legislature last week only moves up the construction start date for the project by one year — the original bills introduced in the House of Representatives and Senate called for starting work two years early. However, when both bills failed to gain the support of both houses, the bills’ proponents were forced to settle for a pared-down budget item.

State Sen. Bob Oke (R-Port Orchard), who sponsored the Burley-Olalla Senate bill, said he was disappointed but cautiously optimistic.

“It’s not all that I wanted, but there’s always next year,” he said. “I think it’s been so well-discussed in Olympia, when I say Burley-Olalla, everybody knows where that is now.”

Jay Spady, president of the South Kitsap Improvement Club, said he’s equally disappointed and also worried about the effect the pending interim fix will have on the interchange’s construction schedule.

The $1 million interim fix approved last year is expected to reduce the number of collisions at the intersection by reducing the number of cars crossing the highway at Burley-Olalla Road. Spady said if the fix does work, it could make the interchange less of a priority for legislators, who might then push construction back even further.

“We really shouldn’t have to have an accident where four people die all at once to bring this forward,” he said. “We know the danger and we need to deal with this now rather than wait for something to happen.”

Spady said his group is planning to talk to U.S. Sen. Norm Dicks (D-Washington) about possibly gaining federal support for the project. He said the group hasn’t quite worked out what it wants to ask for, but said even a loan might make a difference in getting the $15 million project finished sometime before 2010 — the current projected completion date.

Money is the big obstacle in the getting the project started — the interchange is funded by gas taxes as part of the Nickel Package transportation project list, but that money won’t be available until after 2009. A loan would allow work to begin sooner by making funding available immediately, and then could be paid back out of Nickel Package monies.

Oke, however, believes he has a fair shot at getting the matter readdressed during next year’s legislative session. Right now, he said he’s hoping the election in November will gain his party — the Republicans — more seats and thereby more support for his cause.

A few more Republicans in the House and Senate, he said, could greatly increase any Burley-Olalla bill’s chance of success.

“When you’re in the minority, it’s a whole lot harder to get things done,” he said.

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