Camp Murray gate will stay put
CHRISTIAN HILL; Staff writer
The Washington Military Department has abandoned its controversial plan to move the main gate serving Camp Murray.
In a tersely worded letter announcing the decision, Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg blamed Lakewood officials for withholding a permit required for the project to move forward. He then placed the onus on them to solve neighborhood traffic woes, now that the city has spurned his agency’s proposal and millions of dollars in related construction funding.
“We now look to you for the solution. What are you going to do about Tillicum’s traffic problems?” Lowenberg concluded in the letter that the city received Wednesday. “What relief are you going to provide for Camp Murray and the Tillicum business community? What capital improvements are you going to fund? When are we going to get relief? I would welcome a meeting at your convenience to learn of the city’s plans.”
City Manager Andrew Neiditz said Lakewood officials continue to support relocation of the gate in concept.
“We’re looking forward to working cooperatively,” he said. “The city government doesn’t have the resources to solve the problem that has been essentially created by the state.”
Asked during an interview if the project can be resurrected, Lowenberg responded, “If it’s a possibility, it’s a remote one. We pulled rabbits out of a lot of hats to contribute to a solution over several years, and now we’re back to square one.”
The military department’s decision came after the city, without explicitly stating so, declined to issue a right-of-way permit to construct the new gate at the intersection of Portland Avenue and Boundary Street, the military department’s preferred location.
Instead, Neiditz told Lowenberg the city intended to issue the permit for gate construction one block to the south, at the end of Grant Avenue, if both the city and military department met certain conditions.
The federal National Guard Bureau wanted the permit issue resolved before moving ahead to fund the estimated $4.7 million project. The military department had already secured partial state funding.
The federal money needed to be released by today, the end of the federal fiscal year. Because of the stalemate, the military department released the funding Tuesday to be used for a project in another state.
The military department had proposed to move the gate from the intersection of Berkeley Street and Union Avenue. The intent was to reduce congestion at the I-5 interchange serving Berkeley by shifting motorists to the interchange at North Thorne Lane, which connects to Portland Avenue.
But Lakewood officials and some Tillicum neighbors raised concerns about the increase in traffic – 63 percent, or about 1,000 vehicles a day – on a residential street they say was not designed for that volume. City officials also questioned claims that the current gate location is unsafe.
Both Lowenberg and Neiditz expressed disappointment and surprise at the action by the other’s agency. Lowenberg said the Grant Avenue option wasn’t formally presented by the city until this week, and his department lacked authority to shift the funding to a different location.
Until he received the general’s letter Wednesday morning, Neiditz said he thought the respective planners were studying the Grant Avenue option.
In his letter, Lowenberg suggested his department and city had been in lockstep on the project. He noted that they both had been working on development plans for Camp Murray and the Tillicum neighborhood simultaneously. And he said Portland Avenue could easily handle the traffic generated by the new gate, given the street’s reconstruction.
Neiditz said he supported the concept of relocating the gate, but the city didn’t become aware of the Portland Avenue location until late in the process.
He said the improvements to Portland were part of the city’s multi-million dollar investment to redevelop the area.
“If someone viewed Portland as being designed for Camp Murray, that was their impression, not mine,” he said.
When traffic concerns were raised this year, Lowenberg wrote that his department pledged $1 million for sidewalks, signs and traffic calming in the Tillicum neighborhood to lessen the impacts of the proposed gate. Neiditz responded that that investment couldn’t rescue the flawed plan.
David Anderson, president of the Tillicum Woodbrook Neighborhood Association, said the controversy has exposed a larger issue: a lack of communication between city government and the community. He said the city never notified the neighborhood in a timely manner that it was exploring various gate options.
“We just can’t go on and pretend that we can live happily ever after because we’re going to be dealing with the same people,” he said Wednesday. “Unless we can identify what went wrong with a government that’s supposed to be open, transparent and forthright, we’re going to be doing this again.”
Christian Hill: 253-274-7390 email@example.com