Harper residents grill county

When it comes to people, it’s usually the prettiest ones that wreak the most havoc. And the same can be said about roads.

As proof, ask anyone who lives near the beautiful, but deeply flawed section of Southworth Drive between the Harper Public Fishing Pier and Olympiad Drive in Harper.

Less than a half-mile long, it is one of the most problem-prone sections of road in South Kitsap County, but its residents remain fiercely loyal and deeply concerned about its future.

Dozens of these outspoken citizens questioned members of the Kitsap County Public Works Department Wednesday night about long-discussed plans to widen the road, which is sorely needed to provide safe lanes for bicyclists and walkers.

“This project was started two-and-a-half years ago, when a resident called me and said they were walking on the road and had been run off by a car, and ended up in a ditch,” said South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel. “This road needs to be safer, and this project is a long time coming.”

The meeting Wednesday was scheduled after the county applied for another block of funding to help pave the way for shoulders on the snug, winding road. The funds were granted by the Puget Sound Regional Council(PSRC) in October, but on the condition that county staff hold more public meetings to discuss their plans.

Karen Richter, a project manager at PSRC, said the county’s request for money to buy right-of-way on the stretch of road was given ’conditional approval’ after nearby residents expressed concern about the project to the council.

Richter said residents wanted another opportunity to meet with county staff to discuss the project, and the council decided to grant conditional approval of the requested funding on the provision that Public Works hold additional public meetings and report back to the council’s Transportation Policy and Executive Boards.

“We told you we would be back, and here we are,” said transportation planner Bill Zupancic, explaining that actually the late Win Granlund began to look at widening the road during his commissioner term in 1992. “Now, 12 years later, here we are. It’s hard to believe it’s been so long coming.”

Zupancic said there have been many delays during the planning of the project, mostly due to the cost and difficulty of widening a road that is bordered on the east by protected tidal lands and on the west by private homes.

Although residents had expressed a strong preference for building a public walkway on the beach, away from traffic, design manager Dick Dadisman said that was not an option.

“It would cost nearly 10 to 15 times more money than paving the roadway,” Dadisman said, estimating that the half-mile boardwalk would carry a price tag of nearly $2 million.

Instead, Dadisman said, the county plans to spend $775,000 to expand the roadway by at least 10 feet, widening the current 10-foot wide traffic lanes to 11-feet, and adding four-feet-wide shoulders on each side.

To move the road upland, the county will have to buy at least five feet of right-of-way from 17 parcels along Southworth Drive, which is why the county applied for $200,000 of the 2005-07 Regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

Zupancic said an additional $95,000 was already allocated to the county for the project during the previous round of funding.

Dadisman said if the project moves forward as planned, construction will not begin until June of 2006, and it is expected to be completed in two months.

Angel said the plan for the road is still evolving, which is why she and the staff members met with the community.

Much of the comments from the public Wednesday night veered away from the widening project and focused on other concerns residents had about the road, which was mainly motorists speeding past their lawns on their way to and from the Southworth Ferry Dock.

Zupancic and Dadisman said they would continue to monitor the road’s speed limit, and promised to consider other issues raised.

“We needed to go back and collect citizen input, and now the staff will begin working through them,” she said, explaining that she was really pleased with amount of people who attended and the questions they asked. “We still have quite a bit to work out and fine-tune, and we will probably be back again.”

Angel said she was particularly interested in contacting a consultant that one of the residents suggested county staff meet with after citing concern that designing the project “in-house” may not provide a broad enough perspective.

In the meantime, however, Angel said it was important to secure the latest block of funding.

“We have got to have that financing,” she said.

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