Road projects under consideration near The Gorge
Grant County officials are looking at ways to alleviate traffic problems on Silica Road NW and West Baseline Road, providing entry to the Gorge Amphitheater, pictured.
SOURCE: GRANT COUNTY/GOOGLE MAPS/COLUMBIA BASIN HERALD GRAPHIC
Staff Writer | September 14, 2023 3:57 PM
QUINCY — Grant County officials are working on options to alleviate traffic congestion on Silica Road and around the Gorge Amphitheater. One project already has been approved by the Grant County Commissioners; two more are under discussion with the goal of making improvements next spring.
Getting and getting out of the Gorge was the subject of a meeting of Grant County officials and amphitheater managers Tuesday. It followed a major traffic jam near the Gorge Friday night that saw hundreds of people waiting in their cars for hours to get to concerts or nearby homes.
Grant County Engineer Dave Bren said the traffic jam crystallized problems and solutions that were already under discussion. But not all the parties were talking to each other, he said.
“Now we have a direction to go,” Bren said Wednesday.
The approved project will upgrade the road surface on a portion of Silica Road NW that’s already three lanes. That’s scheduled for next spring and is paid for with federal funding. The cost is estimated at about $1 million.
One of the two proposed projects would extend the third lane on Silica Road NW about 1.7 miles. Bren said the cost estimate on that is about $900,000. The second project would add a third lane for about a mile on West Baseline Road. The cost of that is estimated at about $700,000.
“The planning is very preliminary,” he said.
Grant County Commissioner Rob Jones said the Baseline Road project is already under consideration for funding from the county’s lodging tax funds. The amphitheater is a major contributor to the lodging tax revenues, Jones said, so it should benefit from the fund at some time.
Jones suggested that county officials apply for the county’s real estate excise tax funds to pay for extending the third lane on Silica Road.
Because work is already scheduled for Silica Road next spring, Bren said it would be more efficient to do the additional work on Silica and the work on Baseline at the same time.
Friday’s traffic jam occurred while fans of the alternative folk group The Lumineers were trying to get into that concert and fans of country singer Eric Church were arriving for his concerts scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. Entry was further slowed by increased security measures inside the venue following a shooting earlier this summer.
Bren said that recreational vehicles make up a substantial part of the traffic; they’re bigger than they used to be, and the more thorough searches instituted after the shooting take longer. Any traffic revisions have to take current conditions into account, he said.
Live Nation owns the concert venue, and part of the discussion involved changes that could be made after concertgoers enter the gate. County public works officials recommended hiring a consultant to look at the roads around the venue and recommend some long term solutions. Answering a question from Commissioner Danny Stone, Live Nation representatives said the company would be willing to help fund that study.
Fixing the roads is a long-term project, Bren said, while making changes inside the venue would be faster. Live Nation representatives said any changes would have to fit within its security regulations.
Cheryl Schweizer may be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.