PORT ORCHARD — With the old saying “If there’s a will, there’s a way” serving as their unspoken mantra, a group of South Kitsap and North Mason public leaders have joined with U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer and local state legislative officials to form a coalition and lobby for funding to build a nearly half-billion-dollar solution to the Gorst corridor traffic congestion.
The State Route 3 and SR 16 intersection in Gorst that leads to SR 304 has long been a headache to the estimated 85,000 commuters who travel along the busy route to and from work around Sinclair Inlet.
The Gorst Coalition members gathered Aug. 18 at an asphalt lot used by Peninsula Suburu, lodged next to the highway crammed with traffic heading to Port Orchard during the afternoon commute from the Bremerton and Shelton areas. Sitting underneath a white tent sheltering them from the hot sun, the leaders spoke with a unified voice about the critical need that exists to alleviate the traffic bottleneck.
“This is a project we definitely need for our community and we need all of our leaders to come together,” said state Rep. Michelle Caldier, 26th District Republican from Port Orchard. “I’m really excited this is going to happen.”
Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, is leading efforts in Congress to find funding at the federal level for the Gorst project. The 6th District congressman said he was able to get funding included in the Biden administration’s recent massive infrastructure bill that would go to pre-design and engineering work for the early stages of the project.
But as Kilmer told those at the Gorst Coalition kickoff event, funding the entire mega-project is going to take more than just enthusiasm from elected officials in the area.
“This project cannot happen with only one entity on its own,” he said. “It’s going to take every one of us and people who aren’t here, with our oars in the water, working to make this happen.”
It will require officials and their constituents to continue making the case at each level of government, he said.
“Why does this matter?” Kilmer asked. “This matters to every worker who’s been late to work because they’ve been stuck in traffic. It matters to every parent who is late to pick up their kids from school or practice. It matters to every senior who has missed a medical appointment because they were stuck in traffic due to congestion in this corridor. And this matters for jobs.”
Kilmer pointed to the Navy’s significant presence in the Kitsap Peninsula as a compelling reason to improve the corridor for commuters and for commercial users. He said $21 billion has been proposed by Congress to update and improve the nation’s four public shipyards, one of which — Puget Sound Naval Shipyard — sits just a few miles from the corridor and employs thousands of workers who live in the area.
The coalition has stated that it will need $457 million from the state Legislature to fund the project.
While such a project would greatly improve the drive for frustrated motorists, it also would likely improve traffic safety. The coalition said a new corridor would make for better response times by emergency vehicles rushing to medical centers. And it would reduce the number of vehicle accidents that routinely injure passengers and tie up traffic, the group stated in its news release. They also shared statistics from the Washington State Department of Transportation. That agency noted that between 2012 and 2016, 1,086 traffic accidents occurred in the Gorst Corridor.