Walla Walla, College Place city councils make right call on Myra Road

The two city councils found a way to get the project done for about $3 million less and with available money.

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In comparison to the problems with many other streets in Walla Walla, or even College Place, lowering the steep grade at Myra Road just south of Dalles Military Road is not necessarily at the top of the priority list.

However, the quick drop from Myra Road to U.S. Highway 125 does pose safety concerns. It's particularly dangerous for large trucks hauling freight in icy conditions. In addition, the steep grade creates visibility problems for motorists. This is why the current configuration does not meet federal safety standards.

Given that, it makes sense that fixing this part of the roadway would qualify for federal funding.

But that doesn't necessarily mean the cities of Walla Walla and College Place should pursue the federal funding, which would require that some local tax dollars be spent.

Last week the councils of those two cities met together to have a thoughtful discussion on the pros and cons of proceeding with the project.

Ultimately, the two councils agreed to move forward with a scaled-back plan that appears to be prudent. The cost to taxpayers -- federal and local -- seems reasonable.

The projected cost of the work was about $2 million in 2007, but it had ballooned to $5.7 million with an addition of an overpass and jug-handle style interchange.

Council members appropriately thought the overpass plan, while nice, was simply too expensive. They instead agreed to a smaller $2.8 million plan without an overpass. The two cities agreed to split the cost of the $20,000 engineering study, including how to scale back the project.

And then each city agreed to contribute $300,000 toward the project if the federal government picks up the remaining $2 million-plus.

Walla Walla Mayor Barbara Clark was the only dissenter in the two councils. Clark said she felt using $300,000 of utility fund money was inappropriate, especially when the city is trying to increase construction on "higher priority" infrastructure projects.

While we would agree the focus should be on "higher priority" projects, an opportunity has surfaced to get this problem fixed for a reasonable cost. If the two cities wait the total cost will be more and it's possible fewer -- or no -- federal funds would be available.

That, however, does not mean a project should be done simply because federal funds are being used. Elected officials should be as careful in spending tax dollars -- local, state or federal -- as they are with their own money.

The two local city councils looked out for the interests of taxpayers as they found a way to address safety concerns for about $3 million less.

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