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Othello development faces roadblock: No roundabout coming to SR 26 and 14th Avenue

by GABRIEL DAVIS
Staff Writer | April 16, 2024 5:15 PM

OTHELLO — After an in-person meeting with a representative of the Washington State Department of Transportation, Port of Othello Executive Director Chris Faix said the intersection at state Route 26 and South 14th Avenue is not slated for the installation of a roundabout.

The roundabout is an important factor in the potential housing and commercial development of 75 acres of annexed land southwest of the SR 26-14th Avenue intersection by Meritage Companies, as it would provide better access to the land and prevent future traffic build-up and hazards. Faix said the port is all in on getting the roundabout installed to further the development. 

Faix elaborated on what the WSDOT representative told him during the April 9 Port of Othello commissioners meeting.

“He said talk to your legislators. It's in the city limits; the city has to be involved in this,” Faix said. “He did say (we can) go look for some grants. Not necessarily us, because again, we're the seller. We have to kind of take a little bit of a step back.”

Faix said in a previous interview that the port had been told by several different sources that a roundabout was funded and scheduled for the intersection, but would come after roundabouts at SR 17 and West Cunningham Road and at SR 26 and South First Avenue.

According to Faix, WSDOT said that the city or port could build the roundabout themselves as long as they build it within WSDOT’s parameters and restrictions. Based on his conversation with WSDOT, Faix said, the cost could be around $3 to $5 million.

“It's just gonna be working with the city,” Faix said. “WSDOT said if we can find the grant funding they would sign off on having it put in and they would just tell us how to do it, or maybe (we could) even turn the money over to them and let them build it.”

The port commissioners approved a 90-day extension to the port’s contract with Meritage last month. The contract holds the land for Meritage’s eventual purchase and prevents the port from selling the land to another buyer.

“We don't want to let this thing simmer or sit,” Faix said. “I mean, it's going to take a while as it is, so the longer you wait the farther it'll get pushed down the road. Since we have a developer who wants to come now, we can't afford to wait because he'll be gone to Tri-Cities or somewhere else and we'll lose another one. So we don't want that to happen.”

For now, Faix said Meritage’s President Jack Barrett is still on board with the development.

“Originally, he wanted something from WSDOT saying this roundabout is coming and it's paid for,” Faix said. “Well, we don't have that now. Now, he would like something from them at least saying –  and he's going to ask for us to do it too and the city and the county commissioners — but just something in writing that says you support the grants, or you support the roundabout.”

Faix said he believes WSDOT will likely be able to write a letter of support for the roundabout or the grants.

Adams County Development Council Executive Director Kyle Niehenke met with WSDOT alongside Faix and attended the April 9 port meeting. Niehenke said ACDC is also willing to support the efforts toward putting a roundabout in with grant funding, including working with Sen. Nikki Torres, R-Pasco, to get that funding.

“There is a Safe Streets to School grant,” Niehenke said. “I told (WSDOT), ‘You take Meritage out of this, that intersection still has a (bunch) of kids coming across to go to school to (Wahitis and Scootney Springs elementaries).’ So, without this, we still could qualify for that grant, but we need our legislator to carry the water.”

Faix said that if the city can get grant funding for the roundabout, it may not delay the project very long — he said it is possible construction will still have to wait until the other roundabout on SR 26 is finished.

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com.

    Meritage Companies President Jack Barrett shows a preliminary design of Meritage’s potential development on 75 acres of land southwest of the intersection of state Route 26 and South 14th Avenue.
 
 
    Highlighted in yellow is the 75 acres of land held by the Port of Othello for the eventual sale to developer Meritage Companies. The red and green circles represent the locations of future roundabouts in Othello at SR 26 and South First Avenue and SR 17 and West Cunningham Road respectively. The blue circle represents the intersection of SR 26 and 14th Avenue, which is not slated for a roundabout by WSDOT.