WALLA WALLA -- The budget package approved by the Legislature this week has some good news for the U.S. Highway 12 widening project.
A total of $2 million to acquire land for the next phase of construction was approved by the state House and Senate, said Port of Walla Walla Executive Director Jim Kuntz. The money is in the transportation appropriations bill which has been sent to the governor for signing.
The funds will help further progress on the first part of phase seven, which will widen the highway to four lanes between Nine Mile Hill to the vicinity of Waterbrook Canyon. A total of $5 million is needed to buy all the land needed for that section of highway.
Kuntz said $3.2 million has already been acquired to complete design work and environmental permitting. Once that work is done and the land for right of way acquired, the next step will be finding funds for actual construction.
Kuntz credited the U.S. Highway 12 Coalition and Walla Walla County Commissioner Greg Tompkins for obtaining the money despite this being a "difficult" budget year.
During the recent legislative session, Tompkins met with legislators, officials and many others to lobby for the funds, Kuntz said. "He took the lead on trying to get additional funds for the highway."
The newest phase of construction, phase six, is nearing completion. That stretch will widen the highway to four lanes from the west edge of Walla Walla to the vicinity of Frenchtown.
Due to funding issues, phase seven has been divided into two parts. The second portion will widen the highway to four lanes from the Woodward Canyon Road to the Frenchtown vicinity, where it will link up with the new four-lane section now under construction.
The ultimate aim of the Highway 12 widening project is to make the roadway a four-lane divided highway from Burbank to Walla Walla. The project officially began in 2002 with the construction of a four-lane section from McNary Pool to Attalia.