State transportation officials hope to hire a consultant this month whose job will be to study traffic patterns on state Route 16 between the Tacoma Narrows bridges and state Route 3 in Gorst.
Local leaders say the study’s results will help them lobby the Legislature in coming years for money for congestion-relief measures on the busy highway that carries traffic to and from the Gig Harbor area.
Meanwhile, a plan to improve state Route 302, one of the main feeders of state Route 16, remains stalled despite the expenditure of $2.5 million to study traffic patterns from the Elgin-Clifton Road junction to the intersection with state Route 16.
Money needed to complete an environmental review of that project remains elusive.
Getting funds for the state Route 16 study was a priority for the West Sound Alliance, a group of government and business leaders from Pierce, Kitsap and Mason counties formed in 2014, said Ron Williams, Gig Harbor city administrator.
Rush hour can be difficult on state Route 16, especially the afternoon drive westbound when off-ramps leading into Gig Harbor stack up.
“The second you get into Gig Harbor, you get backups,” said Derek Young, a Democrat who represents Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula on the Pierce County Council.
State lawmakers allocated $3 million in the last transportation package to fund the study.
“For years, the city of Gig Harbor has gone to the state with requests to extend carpool lanes and improve overpasses,” Williams said. “This is the comprehensive study that will allow us to request funding from the Legislature to make those improvements.”
The consultant will be asked to estimate traffic conditions over the next 20 years and make suggestions for easing existing congestion and planning for future growth.
The state Route 302 study, meantime, has been stalled since 2012.
Dennis Engel, a planner with the state Department of Transportation, said at least $2.5 million more is need to complete an environmental analysis for state Route 302 and move the project forward.
State engineers have identified several alternatives to route traffic around a steep, winding hill in the Wauna area and bypass the Purdy spit bridge, which has been classified as structurally deficient and acts as a bottleneck.
Some of those options include building a bridge to cross the Burley Lagoon to the north.
State Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, said she lobbied during the last legislative session for money for the state Route 16 and the state Route 302 projects but in the end had to choose only one to champion.
Angel cast her lot with the state Route 16 study.
Rerouting state Route 302 is a big-ticket construction project that will be a hard sell if and when the environmental review is completed, Angel said.
“It always boils down to money, and you know how short we are on transportation money,” she said. “I did feel that was a fair trade.”
Councilman Young said he continues to hope that money some day will be earmarked for state Route 302, which is known to be hazardous.
“It’s a dangerous highway,” he said. “It’s a must-do. We have to figure something out.”