The Dockton Road debate: Let's have a conversation

Islanders crammed into the multipurpose room at McMurray Middle School last week to learn the latest about the fate of Dockton Road along Tramp Harbor, ask questions and offer up their opinions.

At issue is a tough debate: Should King County spend $20 million to repair the road, replace its aging seawall and add to the span a cantilevered sidewalk that would extend out over the beach and Tramp Harbor? Or should it spend $12 million to close it, get rid of the vulnerable stretch of road once and for all and turn it into a beachfront pedestrian path wide enough for an occasional emergency vehicle?

It’s not an urgent matter, since the cash-strapped county has cut the project from its current capital budget. It is, however, an emotionally charged and divisive one — touching, as it does, on people’s quality of life, the traffic outside their doors, salmon recovery and our own personal values about how we should live on this Earth.

It’s also a big decision, the opportunity, really, of a lifetime. The choice the county makes — and it will eventually make one — will be with us for a century or so.

The argument many make is that closing the road would hurt those who live on Maury, adding to their commuting time. Traffic could no longer disperse as it comes through Portage — with some drivers heading down Quartermaster Road, others down Dockton Road along Tramp Harbor. All of them would be shunted onto Quartermaster, where many would opt to head north on Monument, transforming that two-lane road into a major thoroughfare.

Those drivers would then hit the end of Monument and head west on 204th to the highway, mixing it up, at least during certain hours of the day, with the high school traffic, a voluminous affair.

Many of us would be affected by heavier traffic volumes on the highway, some noted at the meeting. But more to the point, one segment of the population — those who live on Maury and Monument — would be disproportionately affected. They would carry the burden, should we decide to close this road.

But The Beachcomber wonders if we could think about this issue differently. Could we discuss it not in terms of who would suffer the most if the road were closed but in terms of what could be gained for the environment? And could we think about it not in terms of how it would affect our traffic in the foreseeable future — but how we might live with one less road over the course of a century?

It may be that the gain is not great enough. But we should ask ourselves: What do salmon need? Could this help in a significant way? How great is the opportunity here? We know there’s a cost to the public. How much benefit is there to fish, to seals, to river otters, to whales?

For the last two centuries, ours has been a course of taking resources away. At nearly every turn, we’ve built roads, cleared land, armored shorelines, erected buildings. If salmon are to thrive, if our grandchildren are to delight at the sight of whales, we need to give some resources back.

It’s possible that removing the road and restoring a natural shoreline would not have a measurable impact. But what if it could? Is it a sacrifice we’re willing to make? Could we live with it? What might that look like? That’s the conversation that should be unfolding. And it’s a conversation we Islanders — intelligent, committed, thoughtful — are eminently able to have.

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