FERNDALE, Wash. — Recent closures of Slater Road have renewed public interest in making it less vulnerable to flooding events and Whatcom Council of Governments (WCOG) has included it on a list of transportation projects they are encouraging the state legislature to fund.
The WCOG project proposal was provided by the Lummi Nation and is currently estimated to cost $14 million.
Slater Road closures are the result of water and debris over the roadway on the east side of the Nooksack River and west of where the road crosses Tennant Creek, the overflow channel from Tennant Lake to the north.
According to the project narrative:
The Slater Road [Elevation/Bridge] project will elevate 1,900 linear feet of roadway above flood stage and replace the undersized culverts carrying Tennant Creek flows under the roadway with a new bridge span.
By raising Slater Road twelve (12) feet for the approximate 1,900 linear that is most prone to annual flooding, crucial all-weather access to key residential, commercial, and employment centers in the area will be secured, and the flood-caused bypass traffic congestion through the City of Ferndale will be eliminated.
Closures have occurred between 1 to 4 days per year in recent years, totaling 17 days since 2014 according to stories reported by Whatcom News (formly My Ferndale News).
Slater Road closures are usually accompanied by the closure of Marine Drive, the only other arterial across the Nooksack River to the Lummi Peninsula. During flood-related closures, Marine Drive and Slater Road traffic is detoured via I-5 and Main Street, which is typically at or near capacity during commute times without the additional traffic. During high-volume evening commute times, this has created traffic backups on northbound I-5 that have at times extended for over a mile from the Main Street off-ramp.
No estimate was given for how long such a project would take, whether it could be built parallel to the existing road to minimize traffic impacts during construction or whether that section of Slater Road would need to be closed during construction and for how long.
In comparison, a section of Slater Road between Elder Road and Lake Terrell Road was closed for over 6 months in 2017 during a relatively smaller project to replace a failing culvert under the road. Slater Road traffic to Sandy Point and the nearby industrial businesses was detoured via Main Street with truck traffic routed further north to Grandview Road during that closure.
In the mean time, Whatcom County recently installed roadway gates on both sides of the flood area on Slater Road. The gates swing out of the way when open and extend across the roadway when closed. This provides a simpler, quicker and less expensive process to close and reopen the road when needed until such time as a more permanent solution can be accomplished.
Those involved with this year’s Washington State legislative session agree there is little hope of new transportation budget items being approved while the legislature deals with the possibility of car tab revenue dropping while also moving toward fully funding education.
“The design, funding, permitting and construction of such a structure is a challenging and expensive project that will require coordination and support from many differing local, state and federal government agencies,” said Whatcom County Assistant Director of Public Works Engineering Joe Rutan in an email to My Ferndale News. “Whatcom County will continue to work with the other agencies involved with transportation and river management in the area such as the Lummi Nation, WSDOT and the City of Ferndale to identify and address the challenges brought on by the temporary closures of Slater Road during flood events.”