Confluence Parkway would create long-term value for our valley, enhance Apple Capital Recreational Loop Trail
Chelan County Public Utility District commissioners will soon make a critical decision that will have profound ramifications for the long-term economic vitality and quality of life for the entire Wenatchee Valley.
The commissioners have to decide whether to sign off on some modest environmental impacts to the Horan Natural Area and Confluence Park, with the anticipated development of Confluence Parkway. The estimated $177 million transportation project, of which more than $90 million has been funded so far, will significantly add to traffic capacity, increase safety, and reduce congestion. Confluence Parkway is part of a larger transportation vision that has benefits across both sides of the river.
Confluence Parkway would begin at the corner of Miller St. and Wenatchee Ave., incorporate Hawley Street and then would turn north east of the railroad tracks (where the Apple Capital Recreational Loop Trail now runs) and continues on over a new bridge over the Wenatchee River, connecting to Olds Station and the US 2 highway ramps at Euclid Avenue.
PUD commissioners are being asked to give formal approval this spring to the mitigation efforts. If they decline to do so, that will effectively kill the transportation improvement plan on both sides of the Columbia that has been in the works for more than a decade.
The lead local agency on the project is the City of Wenatchee, and Mayor Frank Kuntz and Administrative Services Director Laura Merrill met with PUD commissioners via Zoom recently to update them on project and mitigation efforts to lessen the negative impacts. A broad collaboration of local agencies has been working on this project, including the Chelan-Douglas Transportation Council, the cities of Wenatchee and East Wenatchee, Chelan and Douglas Counties and the Regional Port Authority. According to local officials, the Confluence Parkway alternative is the only viable option to address long-term needs.
PUD commissioners, appropriately, have to be concerned about fulfilling the PUD’s responsibilities to protect the natural environment as part of their license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They asked some probing questions in the meeting, so it’s not a foregone conclusion that they’ll approve it.
The Confluence Parkway Project has been in the works for more than a decade as a way of alleviating the growing gridlock in North Wenatchee Avenue. As Kuntz told the commissioners, the City of Wenatchee is a virtual island with a total of four lanes of traffic entering and leaving the community over the two bridges. Confluence Parkway will significantly expand capacity by creating an arterial street corridor that will function as a bypass for the state highway.
Four years ago, PUD General Manager Steve Wright expressed concerns about the impact of the project on PUD properties, but subsequently softened that position and offered PUD help to mitigate potential impacts. Since that time, the Confluence Parkway Plan has evolved and changed in part to address those early concerns.
The parkway will run parallel to the trail for a mile or so near the natural area, and there will be some sound impacts but also some important improvements to the trail. Currently, the trail follows Hawley Street, which creates safety issues for users. The proposal is to reroute the trail behind property owned by the PUD and keep users closer to the Horan Natural Area. That new trail will be 12-foot wide, a few feet wider than the current trail.
The current pedestrian bridge would be eliminated and the new bridge over the Wenatchee River would include a pedestrian trail hanging partially underneath it.
There will be additional public engagement this spring to let PUD customers look at the proposed changes and offer input. That’s in addition to public engagement work that has already happened.
It seems to me that the City of Wenatchee and its partners have done a thoughtful and thorough job of mitigating the downside impacts and creating significant value for the valley as a whole.
Using the PUD’s mantra for making decisions: “What’s in the best interest for the most people for the longest period of time,” I believe the commissioners should sign off on the changes.