WALLA WALLA — A controversial plan to reduce Rose Street to two traffic lanes and a middle turn lane has been ditched in favor of maintaining its current four-lane configuration.
The Walla Walla City Council voted 5-2 on Wednesday, reversing its decision in March, after Council Member Shane Laib motioned to rescind the lane reduction plan, which had also included bike lanes.
What followed after his motion was a lengthy debate over what made sense — whether more lanes are better than fewer — compared with city engineer reports that the main east-west arterial to College Place would be safer with two lanes, a center turn lane and bike lanes on each side.
“We are talking about a major industrial corridor in the city of Walla Walla,” Laib said. “And we are talking about taking it down from four lanes to three, and I am sorry it makes no sense.”
Laib and Council member Conrado Cavazos were absent at the March 27 City Council meeting when the lane reduction plan was narrowly approved in a 3-2 vote. Council members Barbara Clark, Chris Plucker and Mayor Jim Barrow for it; Jerry Cummins and Mary Lou Jenkins voted against it.
What followed was a huge public outcry from people who didn’t want to see traffic slowed down to one lane, feared traffic crashes would increase and opposed cutting down old sycamore trees to improve visibility as part of the project.
Among the opponents was Tim Demitor, owner of Champs Garage in Walla Walla, who worked over the following weeks to garner support to change the Council’s position.
On Wednesday night Demitor presented Council with two petitions in support of keeping the four lanes.
One petition was signed by approximately 125 residents of Golden West Estates Manufactured Housing Community. The other had signatures representing 23 of some 25 businesses located on or near the lane-reduction section, which would have stretched from 13th Avenue to just before Myra Road.
“I personally went to every single business owner, every single one of them. And not one of them was in opposition (to four lanes),” Demitor said, noting the two exceptions were Key Technology and Koncrete Industries.
Opponents also saw support from Mayor Jim Barrow, who originally had voted to reduce lanes to improve safety but voted Wednesday to maintain the existing four lanes. Cavasos, who was absent during the March meeting, also voted Wednesday for four lanes.
“I came to this meeting tonight believing that it is our responsibility to do what is right,” Barrow said, noting that he still believed city engineers when they stated that Rose Street would be safer with fewer lanes. “On the other hand, we are elected to represent the people. And unless it is immoral, illegal or unsafe, I think we have a duty to represent the people.”
As for the sycamore trees, City engineer Neal Chavre said the city will still be able to keep the number to be removed at six, regardless of the lane configuration.
Also during Wednesday’s meeting, Laib motioned to officially designate Rose Street as four lanes so city officials could stay on schedule with bid requests for the $2.2 million repaving and line-striping project.
There was also some discussion over whether keeping Rose Street at four lanes would result in the loss in state and federal grants that will pay for 80 percent of a $700,000 traffic light project at Rose and 13th Avenue.
City Manager Nabiel Shawa said he would look into the matter to determine if the grants would still be allowed with the four-lane configuration.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.