Local, state, federal officials gather to celebrate U.S. 12 project

By Andy Porter of the Union-Bulletin

patty murray 7 03
As a crowd gathered beside U.S. Highway 12 listens Monday, Sen. Patty Murray talks about the efforts to secure funds for the multimillion-dollar project. 
U-B photo by Andy Porter

While noting the importance of the milestone, officials say they won't stop until the road is four lanes all the way to Walla Walla.

As semi-trucks snorted and rumbled in the background, a crowd of officials gathered by U.S. Highway 12 Monday to mark progress on a multimillion-dollar project to transform the road into a four-lane highway.

Seated under a white tent, federal, state and local dignitaries traded quips and compliments to commemorate efforts that have secured more than $46 million to widen the heavily traveled road from Burbank to the Wallula Junction.

Federal legislators Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., were among the parade of speakers who talked about how the project will both save lives and boost the region's economy. The lawmakers worked to secure funds for the project.

The safety issue was a central point with city of Walla Walla Mayor Jerry Cummins.

``Certainly the economic benefit will be measurable,' he said. ``But I don't think the benefits in terms of human life can be measurable.'

Several officials, among them Walla Walla County Commission Chairman Dave Carey, noted they never expected to see the project reach the stage it has.

``I had the Department of Transportation tell me at one time, `Not in my lifetime,' Carey said in his remarks. ``Well, it's getting done.'

Port of Walla Walla Executive Director Jim Kuntz, who was himself recognized for his efforts to help organize lobbying efforts, said Monday's event ``marks a very, very important milestone' for the project.

``The four-laning of U.S. Highway 12 has begun in a real fashion,' he said. But the project isn't finished yet.

``We're not going to quit until it is four-laned to the (Walla Walla) city limits,' he said.

Among the day's speakers, Port of Walla Walla Commissioner Fred Bennett may have put the most humorous spin on the time and effort spent to bring the project to its present stage.

``The gestation period for the elephant family is the longest in the animal kingdom,' he said. ``I've found that this is longer, 22 years in the making.'

But, Bennett added, ``to the long, long list of people who helped make this day possible, the birth was, and is, successful. Thank you, thank you.'