Market Overview: Economy sends mixed signals, but public works projects press on
The Tri-Cities is being transformed by an array of public and private projects.
From apartment buildings and subdivisions to new Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen franchises and a pair of massive distribution centers for Amazon Inc., the community’s growing population is reflected in the buildings and businesses that serve it.
Will it continue into 2023?
The economy is sending mixed signals. Locally, housing starts were running 20% behind the five-year average in September after a series of interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve pushed the rate on a 30-year mortgage to about 6.5%.
Inflation is running around 8.3% and no end is in sight for spotty deliveries of critical equipment, leading to the ubiquitous phrase, “supply chain disruptions.” It is a recipe for uncertainty.
Plenty of private projects are proceeding – look to north Pasco for the start of Darigold’s $600 million milk-drying plant. But public works emerged as a key area to watch in the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business’s annual dive into all things related to construction and real estate.
Local cities, ports and school districts are investing heavily in the critical infrastructure needed to serve the growing community. The combined population of Benton and Franklin counties stands at about 312,000, an increase of about 10,000 people in just two years, according to the state Office of Financial Management.
Some projects will upgrade and expand existing systems, such as the water systems that fill our faucets, and the sewage systems that safely dispose of wastewater. Others will establish fire stations, schools and roads.
The biggest of these are the new high schools envisioned in Pasco and Richland. Both districts report crowding at their existing schools and both intend to ask voters to approve bonds in early 2023.
If approved, bonds will fund construction of two new high schools and other facilities. The Pasco bond will be on the Feb. 14 ballot. Richland hasn’t finalized its request.
Pasco’s new high school will be constructed near Road 60 and Burns Road and will be its first since Chiawana High opened in 2009.
Richland’s new full-service high school will be built in West Richland and will be the first since Hanford High opened in 1972.
The Kennewick School District is not pursuing a new bond. But it recently started a $31 million project to replace Ridge View Elementary, among the last projects funded by a bond approved in 2019.
Chervenell Construction is the contractor for the Ridge View project, which is replacing a 20-classroom school with a 30-classroom one. The old school has been demolished and the site was being prepared in September for construction to begin.
In the interim, staff and students are meeting at Fruitland Elementary, near Neil F. Lampson Stadium and Kennewick High School.
Pasco and Kennewick both have major bridge projects in the works. Pasco is building the $36 million Lewis Street overpass, which replaces the outdated and dangerous underpass that dips below BNSF rail lines in east Pasco.
Kennewick is rerouting Ridgeline Drive under Highway 395 in the Southridge area, an update that will smooth traffic in the fast-growing area and improve safety on the highway corridor. Richland completed its main bridge project in 2020 when it opened the Duportail Bridge to traffic.
Kennewick will solicit bids to upgrade the Steptoe Street-Gage Boulevard intersection by early 2023.
And in September, the city of Richland broke ground on a project to extend Center Parkway. Premier Excavation Inc. of Pasco is the contractor. The project will connect Center Parkway across railroad tracks and provide a connection between Gage Boulevard and Tapteal Drive at the Richland-Kennewick border near Columbia Center mall.
Premier Excavation also is busy building Cooperative Way off Keene Road for the city of West Richland. The road will service Benton REA’s future headquarters.
In Pasco, the city is preparing to spend $40 million to upgrade roads in the Road 100-Broadmoor corridor to accommodate future retail and residential development that is taking hold. Costco signed a letter of intent to build a store at Road 100 and Sandifur Parkway, though the company has not formally announced any plans for a second Tri-City location.
The work includes adding more lanes at the Interstate 182 interchange in anticipation of future traffic loads.
On the utility front, Kennewick began a $10.8 million effort to replace 26,000 water meters to “smart” meters that can be read remotely and that offer customers a real-time look at their water use.
The city plans to overhaul its wastewater treatment plant to the tune of $29.1 million beginning in 2023. The old settlement lagoons will be replaced by greenhouses that dry solid waste and convert it into fertilizer.
Pasco solicited bids to upgrade its process water reuse facility, which serves food processors, and to invest in its wastewater treatment plant, a new reservoir on the west side and its Butterfield Water Treatment Plant.
Richland budgeted $3.1 million to expand the capacity of its wastewater treatment plant.
West Richland also expects to expand its wastewater treatment plant and build a second one to accommodate the future Lewis & Clark Ranch development.
Fire stations, furry friends
Local cities will continue to build new fire stations and replace old ones in the coming year.
Pasco advertised for bids for its next fire station and Kennewick broke ground on a replacement station at Sixth Avenue and Auburn Street.
And Pasco is taking steps to construct a 10,000-square-foot facility to house Tri-Cities Animal Control and Sheltering Services on a site near the aging facility next to the Columbia River. The city submitted documents for environmental review, though as of publication it had not advertised for contractors.
In review documents, the city indicated it expected to break ground in November 2022. Pasco is the lead agency and host for animal control, which also serves Richland and Pasco.