U.S. Highway 12 project needs to find funding for upcoming phase

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The U.S. Highway 12 Coalition will steer its efforts in 2010 toward securing $5 million for the latest phase of the mega road project.

With the latest leg of the multiphase realignment slated to open mid-year and the call for bids on the Burbank interchange construction billed for late February, members of the coalition are hoping to ride the momentum of the project and secure additional funds despite the dour economy.

Port of Walla Walla Executive Director coalition member Jim Kuntz said through past federal appropriations, enough money exists to complete the environmental and design work for phase 7A -- the widening of the highway between Nine Mile Hill to the Woodward Canyon vicinity.

However, Kuntz said the $5 million is needed to buy land along that stretch. After that, the coalition would focus on raising the $68 million for build out of that phase.

Kuntz said the coalition plans to seek $3 million in federal money through the congressional delegation. Officials will lobby for the other $2 million at the state level, including through grant requests. Though arguably the largest portions of the realignment from Burbank to Walla Walla remain, Kuntz said he is "cautiously optimistic" that the $5 million goal can be met this year.

"I think there's a lot of momentum for the U.S. Highway 12 Coalition," he said. He said the unification of the broad-base of members -- from the area's government agencies to school district representatives and business officials -- is "highly respected" by legislators, he said.

Meanwhile, the $57 million sixth phase of the project -- realignment from Walla Walla to the Frenchtown vicinity -- is expected to open in July.

Kuntz also remains hopeful that the tentative Feb. 22 bid date for the new Burbank interchange will remain, despite a paperwork processing challenge. That $29 million phase is expected to be constructed starting this spring.

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