State Route 141 Washington

State Route 141 is seen here at its junction with State Route 14 in Bingen. White Salmon is considering acquiring the stretch of road from Bingen to its junction with S.R. 141 alternate at its northern terminus. 

The City of White Salmon is considering acquiring State Route 141 from its junction with State Route 14 to the alternate junction.

White Salmon City Council formed a consensus last week to send the discussion over to the planning commission, which may hold off on discussing the issue until November, according to City Clerk Jan Brending.

The proposal emerged out of the City Operations Committee, which discussed an opportunity presented by Washington Department of Transportation which currently owns the length of road, over the course of two meetings.

City Councilor and operations committee member Jason Hartmann said the proposal emerged over a discussion in conjunction with a proposed Loop Trail, which would connect the City of White Salmon’s downtown corridor to the Hood River-White Salmon Interstate Bridge.

Should the city acquire the road, it would mean the city would not have to ask permission from the Department of Transportation to implement city-driven initiatives on the road, which travels through the city’s downtown commercial area. Brending said the level of permission the city needs currently to do a project on the road’s rights-of-way varies; for instance, with the Garfield roundabout project, WSDOT requires engineering drawings and other technical documents to sign off, but when the city wants to shut the road down for parades and other events, the city would normally submit a single form to secure permission from the department.

Additionally, City Land Use Planner Brendan Conboy said an acquisition of the road would “also give us control of the pedestrian downtown and Jewett Boulevard, in terms of parking, improved pedestrian landscaping, things that we want to do.”

Brending said during the meeting that Bingen’s downtown improvements were done in coordination with WSDOT, “so it’s not like we cannot do those things, it just would be easier if we didn’t have to partner with WSDOT for it.”

Not only would the city acquire the length of road from its connection with S.R. 14 in Bingen to the alternate junction, past city limits, it would also take on the responsibility to maintain the road, including snowplowing, striping, rockfall, guardrail maintenance, among other forms of maintenance. Brending added that the police department would take over patrolling the additional roadway, which is normally done by Washington State Patrol and Klickitat County Sheriff’s Office

According to a city staff memo, WSDOT told staff that the department would pave the highway before turning it over to the state.

“If that is the case, then it may be 12 years before the highway would have to be chip sealed,” the memo said.

The memo shows Klickitat County Public Works Department estimated a chip seal and overlay of the road would cost the city more than $2.1 million, which could be expected to be done every 12 years. Striping is estimated to cost $5,268 annually.

The city’s road budget is has seen more expenses than revenues this year, with about $25,000 taken from the city’s beginning cash to balance the budget, Brending said.

The city’s 2022-2027 Six-Year Transportation Improvement Program includes $7 million of projects, not including the Garfield Street reconstruction and roundabout project, according to the memo.

In recent years, the city has warmed to the idea of seeking voter approval for a permanent levy lid lift dedicated to funding street maintenance, which might satisfy funding for the Highway 141 acquisition and future maintenance, Brending said.

“My first thoughts are … that if there was a landslide there, we would be responsible for fixing it and or replacing that road,” said Council Jim Ransier. City administrator Pat Munyan said the city would normally be involved in any work done following a landslide.

Ransier voiced frustration over Klickitat County’s disinterest in participating with any acquisition proposal.

“It’s worth noting that the additional cost and the additional work and maintenance is pretty high, but like I said … I’m definitely interested to hear from the planning commission what their point of view is,” said Post.

Brending said there are currently unknowns regarding the acquisition process. The city may have to do what’s called a “shoestring annexation,” which would be annexing the right-of-way since the road goes out to the alternate junction past the city limits.

White Salmon Mayor Marla Keethler approached Bingen Mayor Betty Barnes to ask Bingen to consider taking on ownership of the portion of the highway that runs through Bingen city limits. According to Barnes, she told Keethler Bingen would not be interested in that, given the expenses that would come with it and that it would not benefit the city, she told Bingen City Councilors back in July.

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The White Salmon City Hall bells and clock may come back to life in the near future. The city council voted to pay Verdin Bells & Clocks — the original installer of the bells — $13,831 to evaluate the bell system.

A Verdin Bells & Clocks technician will visit the city for three days to evaluate what is needed to restore the 14 bells. If the city enters a further agreement to restore the bells, Verdin will credit 50% of the evaluation fee towards the purchase of the new bell ringing equipment, according to the agreement.

“There’s certainly a lot of affection for our clock tower and also … enthusiasm when the bells do play,” Keethler said.

Community volunteers have taken to performing their own evaluation to keep the bells ringing and adding songs to play. Brending said, “the community loves these bells, and they are beautiful when they are ringing.”