Maybe it's time to rediscover SR-3

Whether or not a speedway suitable for NASCAR races is built in South Kitsap, the proposal has perhaps had a salutary effect by focusing attention on the need for roads and highways to serve any growth in this area.

Imagining thousands of vehicles coming to and going from the speedway for a few days two or three times each summer is within the ability of most of us, and it’s not a pretty picture to some people.

Sen. Margarita Prentice (D—Renton), who heads the Senate Ways and Means Committee, is one for whom the traffic would be an ugly sight. As a result, she is adamantly opposed to state funding for the speedway’s construction.

Viewed from the Seattle and Tacoma areas, Kitsap County is virtually an island – accessible by ferries and a bridge – so it shouldn’t be a surprise that people like Prentice would consider the speedway proposal to be impractical.

Of course, there is another way to get onto the Kitsap peninsula. It’s called State Route 3, but that highway doesn’t go in the direction of Seattle or Tacoma, so it tends to be forgotten.

If the intense discussions about a speedway could do nothing more than eliminate the mental block that keeps people like Prentice from noticing SR-3, it would be a good thing.

This is true because the occasional traffic volume caused by a speedway is not the only thing that needs to be imagined.

If the South Kitsap Industrial Area is ever to develop into the industrial and commercial center anticipated in the county’s plans, the roads and highways would need to accommodate a few thousand more vehicles each working day all year round.

Some of the road improvements are already planned, according to the “Green Flag Report” put together by the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council in an effort to persuade the International Speedway Corp. to choose Kitsap County for its speedway.

Unfortunately, those improvements would only widen Lake Flora Road and perhaps Clifton Road – making it easier for more vehicles to get to the area from State Route 16 without going to SR-3 through Gorst.

Missing from the current plans is any improvement to SR-3, and this may be a significant problem.

It seems the SKIA plan may be a pipe dream if there are no substantial improvements to SR-3, which would handle the traffic from Gorst to the SKIA.

Even better would be an improvement to SR-3 that would make it a viable alternative to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge as an access point for our peninsula, but this doesn’t seem to fit with the prevailing viewpoint that growth outside an area like Seattle or Tacoma is “sprawl” and thus to be avoided.

At some point, the traffic choking the metropolitan area on the east side of Puget Sound may force people to look elsewhere for room to grow.

The SKIA could be part of that “elsewhere,” if the investment were made to improve SR-3 from Gorst going south beyond Shelton in Mason County.

While the connection to the east side of Puget Sound would still be crucial for businesses that locate in the SKIA, they would also have an alternate route to the south.

A “State Route 3 corridor” of development is wonderful to think about, but it really is a pipe dream for now.

Until there are businesses that state an interest in developing within that corridor, the cost of improving the highway will probably not be seen as a worthwhile investment.

Ironically, it isn’t likely that many businesses would consider building in that corridor until improvements to the highway are imminent.

If there were proposals for development along SR-3, the road and highway improvements might be partially funded through a process similar to what Rep. Derek Kilmer (D—Gig Harbor) is seeking for the Gig Harbor area in order to allow construction of a hospital.

Kilmer’s proposal would designate part of the state’s increased sales tax revenue collected in that district to pay part of the cost of road improvements.

In the SKIA, one business has stated an interest in building alongside SR-3 – Great Western Sports, Inc., a subsidiary of the International Speedway Corp.

However, ISC and GWS have submitted a financing proposal for the speedway that does not include funding for road and highway improvements.

Could something like Kilmer’s idea be part of the solution for the SKIA and the proposed speedway? 

Perhaps, but the ISC/GWS financing proposal would need a major revision.  Rather than using the state’s increased sales tax revenue to pay for the speedway, that revenue would have to be used for highway improvements.

Unless tax revenue generated by development within the SKIA is used to pay at least part of the cost of infrastructure improvements, it’s hard to imagine how those costs would be paid – speedway or no speedway.

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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