Opinion: It’s time for PRCAC and the Point to think bigger

One of the roles taken on by the Point Roberts Citizens Advisory Committee (PRCAC) is to propose expenditures of the penny a gallon gas tax that is collected on all sales in Point Roberts. Their recommendations are passed on to Whatcom County Council which acts as the Transportation Benefit District (TBD) board and makes the actual decisions on the use of the funds.

Currently, there’s about $1,000,000 sitting in the TBD account. PRCAC has decided to approach TBD spending on an 80/20 basis. This means 80 percent of the money should be reserved for large scale projects while 20 percent would be used on small projects. A recent example of a smaller project expenditure is the decision to pay for the maintenance of the garden beds along Tyee Drive between Benson and Gulf roads.

The committee is now considering two new projects for the smaller fund: a widening of Marine Drive on the curve at Lighthouse Marine Park and the installation of sidewalks on one or both sides of Tyee Drive from the grocery store up to Benson Road.

According to the county public works department, $200,000 should just about cover the cost of installing straight-line sidewalks on both sides of Tyee. Yes, sidewalks with very little foot traffic on one of the Point’s biggest streets with the widest shoulders and an existing gravel path.

If there is one thing that people in Point Roberts have seemingly agreed upon for some time, it is that they’d like to see the creation of a pedestrian and bicycle road and trail network throughout the Point. Surveys, charrettes and public forums have consistently demonstrated that desire.

Instead of taking a piecemeal approach, why not use TBD small project funds to hire a consultant to design and plan a comprehensive multi-use network incorporating trails and rights of way (ROWs) in our parks and the privately-owned public access ROWs such as the marina? Routing, costing, scheduling and sources of grants should be part of the plan.

Trouble areas like Marine Drive and the Goodman Hill Road at Maple Beach might be the first projects to get underway. A plan should examine county road ROWs to avoid problems where, for example, the widening at Lighthouse Park is planned for the south side of the road only to meet up with the widened shoulder on the north side just two blocks to the east (wouldn’t re-striping the lanes take care of this?).

Ideally, where ROWs permit, there would be room for bike and pedestrian lanes on both sides of the road. Where there isn’t, some sort of physical indicator like Botts dots or road pucks could be used to delineate the lanes. In other areas, paths that are physically separated from the roadway would be ideal.

Much of the TBD funds have been sitting in county accounts for years and are a constant temptation to the administration to use for work that rightfully should be paid from our county road tax monies.

Dare we urge PRCAC board members to think big? Instead of dribbling TBD funds away on small-scale projects of little significance, perhaps the full million dollars should be used on first the planning and then the implementation of a Point-wide bicycle/pedestrian road and trail system. Matching fund grants might carry this project a lot further than the funds already sitting in the bank.

The county is planning extensive chip sealing of roads on the Point next year. This might be the ideal time to make significant progress on something for which residents have expressed strong support over the years.

One thing is certain, the county will never pay for it. If we want it, we need to do it. What we don’t need, however, are arrow-straight, suburban sidewalks that look so out of place in Point Robert’s rural setting.

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