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Dockton Road Seawall project could be put on hold

King County officials are hosting a meeting to find out if Islanders would like a critical stretch of Dockton Road redesigned with an eight-foot-wide sidewalk cantilevered over Tramp Harbor, transformed into a one-way road or decommissioned altogether.

After several months of work and $1 million in planning and design efforts, county engineers and their consultants have crafted a handful of alternatives and are now ready to garner community input — information that will help them determine the next steps in an ambitious effort to rebuild 4,000 feet of roadway, considered one of the most vulnerable road spans in unincorporated King County.

But the public meeting — slated for Thursday, Oct. 15 — comes at the same time that the county is facing yet another huge financial crisis. Thus, even while county officials will seek Islanders’ opinions on the road’s design, the actual construction is expected to be put on hold indefinitely.

“We have funding to get through the preliminary engineering and concept development work. And that will continue until April of next year,” said Rick Brater, manager of engineering services and roads for the county’s Road Services Division. “What we don’t have is money to complete the design and build the project.”

The stretch of road is wellknown on Vashon — a serpentine span from Ellisport to Portage that hugs Tramp Harbor. It’s a stretch that many love, with its sweeping views of the bay, and that some curse; nearly every winter, it seems, the steep bank on the west side of the road gives way and the road is closed until the alder and debris are cleared.

The road, which some 3,000 cars traverse each day, is a lifeline to Maury Island. It’s also dangerous, some say.

“We watch people jog and walk on that road every day, and every day we cringe,” said Michael Ryan, who lives in the only house that has driveway access directly off this span of Dockton Road. “The road’s not safe.”

At the same time, others note, its timbered seawall, now nearly a century old, was built long before salmon and orca whales were listed as endangered, and others see the county’s project as an opportunity to restore a critical stretch of shoreline — an important step in a state-sanctioned effort to reclaim Puget Sound’s ecological health.

The county is now trying to determine a solution to what Brater called one of the division’s highest priority road preservation projects. For the last year, county officials have held eight meetings with its 12-member advisory group, a panel of Islanders the county selected from a group of more than 30 who applied for a spot. They also hired Seattle-based KPFF Consulting Engineers to work with the county to develop potential scenarios for repairing the failing seawall.

Ready for presentation, Brater said, are four scenarios: a rebuild of the seawall that would include an eight-foot-wide sidewalk cantilevered over Tramp Harbor, similar to a short stretch next to the pier that the county rebuilt a few years ago; a one-way road that would also include a shoulder wide enough for cyclists and walkers; a decommissioning of the road, making way for a nearshore restoration project as well as a wide beachfront pedestrian path; and a no-build option, leaving the road as is and making emergency repairs until such repairs are no longer possible.

The no-build option, Brater said, would ultimately lead to the road’s closure.

“We’re making every effort to be as creative as possible. There are a lot of different interests on Vashon. ... But fundamentally, we have a transportation project,” he said.

Next week’s public meeting is an important step in helping the county determine its preferred alternative, he added.

“There’s information we just don’t get except from local input,” he said. “It’s critical to making the project better.”

The county budgeted $31 million for the project, which had been included in its six-year capital improvement program. But the county is facing another round of budget cuts due to a $56 million hole in its $627.5 million budget. And last week, when County Executive Kurt Triplett issued his budget for the next fiscal year, the Dockton Road Preservation Project was spiked.

Brater said the county still needs to move forward so that it can complete the concept-development phase of the project and maintain as much momentum as possible.

“Getting the community’s input on the different design concepts ... is hugely helpful, so that when and if we get funding we can move forward from that point,” he said.

But some members of the community advisory group are worried about what the county’s budget woes could portend for the road. Jim Distlehorst, a family practice doctor who practices in Seattle and lives in Manzanita Beach on Maury Island, sent an e-mail to the county and his colleagues on the community advisory panel, expressing his concerns about the project’s indefinite future.

“In effect, putting the Dockton Road Project on hold, given the well-documented fragility of that Tramp Harbor segment, is a threat to my job and livelihood,” he said in the e-mail.

The county has worked well and openly with the community panel, he added in an interview. But the latest news, he said, “makes me very nervous.”

Others say the county’s financial woes could mean that the most expensive option — a two-lane road with a cantilevered sidewalk — may be off the table.

“If you want this gold-plated solution, you’re going to have to fight tooth and nail to do that,” said Kyle Cruver, a member of the panel who also serves on the Vashon-Maury Island Community Council’s executive board. “The budget is now the over-arching issue.”

Even so, Cruver and other advisory panel members said, it’s important that Islanders come to the county’s public meeting — because at some point, the county will very likely pick the project up again.

“I think uncertainty and a lack of information can actually be a negative,” Cruver said. “It’s important to have some closure and some inclusion in the project. It might avoid the spread of misinformation, which happens so easily.”

Ryan, whose home abuts the road and another member of the community panel, agreed.

“I think the community needs to come together and direct this,” he said.

Public meeting

The King County Road Services Division will host a public meeting to discuss the alternatives it is considering to address Dockton Road’s aging timbered seawall. The meeting will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, at McMurray Middle School.

Islanders can also comment on the Web. Go to www.kingcounty.gov/roads and select “construction,” then click on “Dockton Road Preservation.”

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