By Daniel Warn / [email protected]
The city of Yelm is applying for funding to modernize the road network that will eventually connect the Yelm loop, commonly known as the “Yelm bypass”, to the state transport system.
Yelm must complete projects, which include a Wilkensen Road overhaul, for the Yelm loop to be a success, said Cody Colt, director of public services for Yelm.
“One of the greatest things the city has done to support the loop is that we’re working on our … transportation plans for these connecting roads,” said Colt. “We’re actually going to go in and apply for funds to actually upgrade these streets. So when the loop is done and someone exits, they’ll be entering a new street that meets the standards.”
Colt said the roads are “definitely not up to date. We’re working on it now and just thinking ahead to create these roads.”
The loop is expected to be completed in 2025. The Washington State Department of Transportation recently launched an online open day for the environmental review of the project.
The loop is designed as a thoroughfare that diverts state traffic from busy Yelm Avenue. It extends from the roundabout northwest of Yelm on Highway 510, past Cullens Road near Yelm Prairie, across Yelm Creek and beyond to Wilkensen Road, which joins Highway 507 south of Yelm.
“This project started back in the late 1990s,” said Grant Beck of Yelm City Planning. âThe city funded and conducted a so-called corridor study to see what it would look like to divert regional … traffic away from Yelm Avenue. The study examined two publicly funded loops in our connections. “
The first, from the roundabout northwest of Yelm on Highway 510 to Cullens Road, is already done, but the second, from Cullens to Wilkensen, is still in progress. A planned roundabout will be placed next to Walmart on Wilkensen to join the road to Highway 507.
Beck referred early on to the city’s successes in relation to the project. Beck said he worked with former Mayor Adam Rivas in 2002 to schedule a meeting with state officials after the legislature changed so they could inform new lawmakers about the project.
âAt this point we had gone through the corridor study. … You really committed to this project and championed it in front of the state parliament, âsaid Beck.
Initial funding for the first part of the loop came in the early 2000s. The state then began the design process and identified the corridor and right of way needs for the project.
Soon after, the state began to buy the right of way.
“The city has worked with the state over the years when there is a development to ensure we have the right of way protected, so we have minimized the number of new lots or houses that would need to be purchased,” Beck said Beck. “But a number of properties or houses had to be acquired through the process.”
Yelm City’s work on the right of way was instrumental in building the first part of the loop, he said.
“The bottom line was that it was so successful that the state was so successful in producing the cost of acquiring right of way that it could build the first stage with the money made available for the design,” said Beck. “So it worked for both sides and we added the roundabout to Cullens Road just before you reach Yelm Prairie.”
Funding for the remaining portion, estimated at around $ 54 million, was secured by the state through gas transportation packages such as taxes, projects, and legislative initiatives.
By 2019 lawmakers planned to do initial drafting for the remainder of the loop, but construction funding was postponed to 2024-25.
The town of Yelm wouldn’t let that happen, Beck said, and worked with its lawmakers to raise enough money to advance the entire design process, update environmental information, and increase home finance to 2022.
However, since that victory there have been several problems and delays with the project, all of which were beyond Yelm’s control.
Initially, the pocket squirrel Mazama was listed as an endangered species, prompting the city and state to reconsider the environmental review, and Yelm planned to create a wildlife sanctuary for the animal.
Project managers then found an archaeological site near the planned route of the loop, which created additional design barriers.
Both issues have since been addressed through the state’s online open house.
Finally, the COVID-19-related closings have postponed home financing until 2023 because Governor Jay Inslee, as one of his first official responses to the pandemic, imposed a moratorium on all new contracts not specifically approved by his office, Beck said.
“We proceeded with the final design and environmental update, but construction funding could not be released to continue the contract,” he said. âThe whole thing, the construction, was postponed to 2023 with a proposed end date of 2025. That is the schedule at this point. So we moved it up, but it was withdrawn because of COVID. ”