Olympia Public Works Director Mark Russell gave an overview of the Fones Road improvement project during the eminent domain public hearing at the city council meeting last night, October 4.
"Fones Road is in bad shape," Russell told the council members, explaining that the road's current condition has incomplete sidewalks and bike facilities with only one crosswalk that is not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible.
They hope to construct sidewalks and bike lanes on both sides of Fones Road, roundabouts, safer pedestrian crossings, landscaping, lighting, and ADA accessibility improvements.
He said the Fones Road improvement project hits all the goals the city wants to achieve, including directly serving commercial, industrial, and residential properties, improving the road and the pavement conditions, and improving sidewalks and bike facilities.
Russell revealed that about 5,000 people live within a half-mile or 10-minute walk to Fones Road. He said the east side had been designated as a historically disadvantaged community by the US Department of Transportation.
"The 2020 census data also indicates that this is a more racially diverse part of our community than other parts. Investing in this reflects the city's commitment to improving equity," said Russell.
Russell said that those who drive will benefit from the increased safety and improved roadway surface, and those who do not will find it much easier to get around."
Fones Road timeline
According to Russell, they have begun right-of-way acquisition. "We reached out to all property owners along the corridor and had discussions. “
The city began right-of-way acquisition this summer and plan to finish it next year. According to their timetable, the construction is set to start by summer 2023.
Olympia, according to Russell, has secured approximately $6 million in federal and state grants for the project.
Eminent domain and condemnation process
Russell said accepting the federal funds has obligated Olympia to multiple processes, including eminent domain. As part of the process, the city council opened a public hearing for the eminent domain process last night.
Eminent domain is the right of the government to take private property and convert it to public use, such as roads. Condemnation is the process by which a government agency can exercise this power. The Fifth Amendment requires the government to pay landowners "just compensation."
For the acquisition procedure, Kinnon Williams of Foster Garvey PC said they followed policies outlined in RCW 8.26.180; appraising the property, sending a written offer, and giving a reasonable time to negotiate.
"We offer those people [who own property in the proposed construction area] exactly what the appraiser says is worth," said Williams.
"So far, we have been unsuccessful [with all parties] in reaching an agreement, but we let them know that we are presenting this to the city council to determine whether to pursue this further [including eminent domain]," Williams said.
If the city approves the eminent domain and condemnation, Williams said they will file a petition asking the court to declare that "this is a public use and that it is necessary."
Three property owners shared their comments on the project.
Raj Singh expressed concerns about the proposed roundabouts.
"The Home Deport entrance where the roundabout is proposed is also where all the trucks go into Home Depot to load and unload. We have concerns about the ingress and egress of these trucks. How are those 53-feet trucks - that are coming and out - to make the roundabouts?" Singh inquired.
Singh said the properties impacted because of these roundabouts have only one way of ingress and egress. "So you can only take a right, and then you have to go to the next roundabout to come around. That is a traffic impact to the site."
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