Four-lane highway to Walla Walla still on hold

TRI-CITIES, Wash. - Construction zones won't plague our state roads this summer, but that also means a lot of safety improvements won't be happening. The biggest goal is a four-lane highway to Walla Walla.

Kris Gibson drives from Milton-Freewater to the Tri-Cities every other day, making a trip down U.S. 12 a requirement.

"I feel helpless driving out there, yeah, and it's scary sometimes. You can't be sleepy," said Kris.

Just this week, while driving back home, Kris hit something in the middle of the road. She couldn't see it until after she was able to pull over.

"I'm angry because people can leave their tires in the middle of the road, could cause a death. That makes me angry," she said.

And that's just how many of the drivers felt when I talked to people today: frustrated with the lack of movement on construction. WSDOT tells me their hands are tied; they can't do the work without money for it.

"We're just concerned, safety. If they drive it daily, they know it's a dangerous route, so they really want to get it done," said WSDOT assistant project engineer Alex Sanguino.

Sanguino says he gets calls all the time from drivers.

The next phase of safety improvements for Highway 12 will cost $126 million - and that's just the design portion. They only have $5 million for it so far. Construction alone will run double the design.

Alex says it's not the only project in need of cash.

"No, I could probably mention almost every road," said Sanguino.

State representatives from Walla Walla say the design phase made it into last year's transportation package - but that didn't pass the legislature.

"I think we all want those projects, but again, it's going to be a tough lift - and probably a lift more appropriately left for the budget year, which would be next year," said Rep. Maureen Walsh.

And for drivers like Kris, that funding can't come fast enough.

"Dangerous and cramped. There needs to be more room, there needs to be more access," she said.

Local representatives say they expect that design phase to get a fair shake for funding next year, with the goal to make Highway 12 four lanes from Pasco to Walla Walla.