PORT ORCHARD — When city officials concluded in 2005 that one of the main arterials leading into town was badly in need of a redesign and rebuild, they quickly figured out that transforming Tremont Street into a gateway boulevard that met current standards and could address rising traffic numbers would cost much more than the City of Port Orchard could pay by itself.
That’s when officials and consultants doing the city’s bidding in the state Legislature began the decade-long effort to cobble together grant awards from varied sources to bring the transportation project to a shovel-ready stage in July 2017.
Mayor Rob Putaansuu recounted the uncertain search for funding as the Tremont construction effort kicked off after a groundbreaking ceremony on July 7, 2017:
“Ten years ago, Port Orchard embarked on a journey to widen Tremont Boulevard to create a gateway into our community,” he told a gathering at the groundbreaking event. “With a grand vision and no resources of its own, the city accepted $3 million of federal transportation funds to design a right-of-way. Little did we know that a great economic recession was just around the corner.”
While the federal funds were a welcome kickstart, they also were a noose around the city’s neck. If the city wasn’t able to fully fund the project by 2018, it would be in the untenable position of having to repay the $3 million back to the feds — without any way to do so. and not getting anything in return.
Complicating matters was that government agencies, including the feds, shifted their award criteria from requiring an applicant to demonstrate it could meet “achievable milestones,” or incremental project steps, to be “shovel ready,” or ready for construction.
With that consideration in mind, Putaansuu and the City Council moved the Tremont project to the top of their transportation priority list. They created a revenue stream to support its future bond debt with a transportation impact fee on building construction and a vehicle tab fee.
Despite the recession slowdown, which dried up much of the grant funding the city had hoped to tap, city officials were able to convince the Puget Sound Regional Council to contribute $1.7 million. During the 2017 state legislative session, Port Orchard’s project — helped through heavy lifting by the 26th Legislative District legislators — was allocated $2 million from the 2017 state transportation budget.
But the funding linchpin for the Tremont project came later that year when the state Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) awarded the city $8 million — by far the project’s the largest financing element and its structural backbone — which virtually assured its go-ahead later that summer.
Completing the funding package was a bond approved by the City Council for the remaining $6 million needed for the $21 million project.
Port Orchard’s commitment to the Tremont project by obligating a large chunk of its debt capacity through bonding was instrumental in convincing the state’s TIB why the city needed such a large contribution.
“This took all of our horsepower,” Putaansuu said in 2018. “Believe me, we didn’t leave any stone unturned. We made sure that we put all the tools in play that were available to us.
“And there were tough decisions. We imposed impact fees. We imposed the car [tab fee] too, which was available to us. We put those into play because we had to tell a story [to the TIB] that we’ve done everything we could, and we needed their help.
“And it worked out.”
Port Orchard Public Works Director Mark Dorsey said the TIB’s contribution was that agency’s largest-ever to a municipality. He said the city’s financial commitment was a tipping point in convincing TIB to contribute funds to the Tremont project.