Bringing back an abundance of family-wage jobs is the driver for improving access to industrial properties in north Lewis County.
“This rural community wants their children to have opportunities for decent paying jobs without having to move away,” shares SCJ Alliance’s Thera Black. “Leaders are determined to find a solution and restore an economic base that has been eroded over the years due to economic shifts, dramatic changes in the timber industry, and the closing of the Trans Alta Coal mine and steam plant.”
Last fall, Lewis County hired SCJ Alliance to help them launch with the North Lewis County Industrial Access study, a comprehensive transportation analysis with an extensive stakeholder and public engagement process.
The goal of the project is to identify roadway and industrial access improvements that will both boost the economy and be acceptable to the community. The study area is constrained with competing uses, as well as geographic and environmental restrictions.
“We want to hear from you. Where are the problems with trucks and trains on the streets? What would make things better? We’re trying to capture as many issues and ideas as we can right now,” says Black, who is SCJ’s transportation planning manager. She says the team is currently working to understand issues and opportunities through the community’s eyes before evaluating and prioritizing strategies.
Some industrial sites are close to schools and neighborhoods. “We’ve got kids walking to school on the edge of streets with trucks going right by them,” Black explains. “So it might be some of the solutions are sidewalks.” Seemingly minor solutions like these are key to a successful solution. “There are probably several quick and inexpensive things that can be done right now that would make a big difference for the traveling public and freight mobility. Something as simple as coordinated traffic signals can make big improvements.”
Large, long-term projects will likely be part of the solution, too. The study will investigate alternate routes using existing I-5 interchanges, improvements to existing local streets and roads, and the feasibility of a new I-5 interchange between Harrison Avenue (Exit 82) and Grand Mound (Exit 88), as people have talked about for years.
“Whether that is a brand new interchange, conversion of the bridge at 216th to an interchange or perhaps a new route to the existing interchange at Grand Mound, such a project will be expensive and take many years. All of those options and more will be considered,” Black added. SCJ will ultimately develop a package of alternatives that together will offer a comprehensive solution.
The effort and its impacts are felt well-past the north county line and into south Thurston County. This active stakeholder group includes officials from Lewis and Thurston counties, affected cities, the Chehalis Tribe, two regional planning councils, economic development agencies, federal and state transportation agencies, and numerous other interested parties.
Black tells me the project is going well; she feels it’s because of the cooperation among stakeholders. “I’ve not worked with a group quite like this before,” she says. “They are so committed to strengthening their communities, coming to the table with their different perspectives but focused on their shared mission and not their differences.”
“With an abundance of designated industrial lands offering good proximity to I-5 and rail, and the location halfway between Portland and Seattle, the potential to transform this economy is real,” Black tells me, adding, “It’s a prime location for industrial growth and private investment, particularly for industries that find it hard to operate in more urban counties.”
Members of the North Lewis County Industrial Access project team will be at the Southwest Washington Fair from August 16 – 21. Look for them in the Grandstand Building in booth 68. “For the benefit of your community and future generations, spend ten minutes finding out about the project and telling us what you think is important,” encouraged Black.
SCJ Alliance specializes in transportation planning and design, civil engineering, environmental and urban planning, landscape architecture and public outreach. This year the firm, dedicated to helping communities of all sizes thrive, is celebrating their 10-year anniversary.