Council puts brakes on Shared Use Path for SR526
Last updated 6/20/2018 at Noon
After nearly a decade of working on the project in some shape or form, the Mukilteo City Council moved to discontinue all work on the SR526 Shared Use Path project.
The project, which was initially started in 2010, would have added a bike and pedestrian path from 44th Avenue West to Airport Road along the fence to Boeing on the south side of SR526.
Assistant City Engineer Andrea Swisstack led a presentation for the council, in hopes of getting some direction on how the city should proceed with the project.
Initially, the path was to be slated on the north side of SR526, but after Boeing expressed some concerns, the path was moved to the south side.
Swisstack said Boeing had a lot of reservations with the project, including under the bridge overpass.
The city received state funds via grants in 2010, 2013, and 2016 for the project, and according to Swisstack, the project was about 60 percent complete in the design phase, and needed at least $100,000 more than the city currently has budgeted in order to complete the design.
Swisstack said Boeing had reservations about disclosing some of their documents to the public, and wanted to retain control over the design and construction of the section of the path that went under the bridge.
Other key issues were ownership and maintenance of the path.
“Probably one of my bigger concerns is the ownership and the long-term maintenance after completion of the project,” Swisstack said. “Is that something that we’d want to take on as a city and have our crews out mowing, cleaning, and repairing?”
Swisstack said another issue was the city expected Boeing or Snohomish County to “champion” the project by taking control and paying for construction and maintenance, and for the city to help get the project construction ready, but that they had been unsuccessful.
Swisstack also said if Boeing was comfortable moving ahead with the project scope as is, they’d still be paying for their section under the bridge, which could delay the project as a whole because they’re unsure whether that would be an immediate priority for Boeing to spend money on.
“I’m not seeing much enthusiasm to jump forward with this and own it from the county, Boeing, or from (Washington) Parks,” Swisstack said. “To see this completed, we’d probably need to own it, but it’s expensive.”
Swisstack said the project was estimated to cost around $4.8 million total, including construction, design, and funding a trail lease from WSDOT since some of the project would be located in WSDOT’s right of way.
In order to keep the grants, the city had to show continual progress toward completing the project, otherwise the funds would have to be returned, Swisstack said.
Councilmember Scott Whelpley favored stopping the project, even though the city may have to return grant money they’ve already spent, especially since most of the project is outside city limits.
“We’ve dragged our feet spending money to keep this alive,” Whelpley said. “We’re bleeding money by doing this. We’re bleeding money that we’re going to have to pay back. Boeing and WSDOT aren’t interested, and it’s not in city limits. We need to wash our hands of this.”
Councilmember Anna Rohrbough, who was out of town but called into the meeting, agreed with Whelpley.
“This is a want versus a need,” Rohrbough said. “We have other things that we need more.”
Council President Steve Schmalz, who has served on the council since 2011, said he always saw this project getting completed as a long shot, and was surprised no one came forward to help fund it.
Councilmember Richard Emery wanted to see if the city could continue talks with Boeing about the project and the bridge, and didn’t want to see the city paying back grant money.
Whelpley ultimately made a motion directing city staff to discontinue all work on the project, and to discuss with WSDOT indefinitely shelving the project, even if that meant paying back grant money. The city has spent $146,661.93 in grant funding on the project since 2010.
“It’s too much money, and nobody’s interested, so let’s wait until the state asks for that money back,” Whelpley said. “It’s been eight years. Staff hours have been wasted. Let’s call a spade a spade. It’s a bad project, and we’re losing money.”
Councilmember Bob Champion agreed with ending the project, but wondered whether this could affect future grant opportunities for Mukilteo.
“I hope this flies under the radar,” Champion said. “I hope it doesn’t knock Mukilteo down on the ‘ask list’ for future grants because we didn’t use the money this time.”
“We have bigger fish to fry,” Whelpley said. “Are we really going to pursue grants for 526 versus the waterfront? Are you kidding me?”
Whelpley’s motion passed 4-1, with Emery voting against the motion. Councilmember Sarah Kneller and Council Vice President Christine Cook were not at the meeting and did not phone in.