On a map, it seemed like a simple fix. Crews could just punch Fife’s 59th Avenue East from Pacific Highway through to 12th Street and provide more direct access between those main arterials. It is just the length of a football field after all. The story on the ground is a different story, however, since houses and septic tanks were in the way, dragging out the timeline and making the cost of the proposed road skyrocket.
But the road got built, courtesy of some $2.3 million the Puyallup Tribe paid with gas tax dollars in what officials are calling an example of how the compact was crafted to play out.
“This is working just the way it should work,” Lt. Gov. Brad Owen said at the ribbon cutting for the new road on March 27, noting that everyone involved in the project benefits. The tribal-operated Emerald Queen Casino in Fife gains easier access for its customers. The City of Fife gets a much-needed connection that its municipal budget couldn’t readily afford. Businesses gain a more direct route between warehouses and industrial areas and Interstate 5 and State Route 167.
“This is cooperation at its finest,” said Tribal Councilmember and long-time Fife resident Bill Sterud, noting that state, county and city officials came alongside business leaders and tribal members to see the opening of a key roadway. “It might be just a 200-yard road, but what took place shows that we can work together. In years passed, it might not have happened.”
The Puyallup Tribe paid for the road under an on-going agreement the state has with several tribes located in Washington regarding taxes collected at tribal gas pumps. Under the 2007 compact, the Puyallup Tribe remits the gas tax collected at its five stations to the state, which then refunds much of it back to the tribe to fund road projects. The tribe has spent some $25 million under the compact so far, more than twice as much as it has received from those gas tax refunds on road projects. Most of those transportation projects are located off reservation land, including the 59th Avenue project and the nearby 54th Avenue off ramp.
“It shows what can happen with two governments work together,” said Greg Byler, consulting project manager for the Emerald Queen.
Standing on the road as a light rain began to fall, Fife Public Works Director Russell Blount watched the first cars flow along the new road, a route the city budget would be strained to fund.
“This could have happened someday,” he said. “But it might have taken decades.”
Former Fife mayor Mike Kelley also attended the ribbon cutting. He remembers first talking about the need for this road more than 10 years ago, before the nearby casino was built.
“Once the casino went up, this was a natural,” he said. “It’s going to be used a lot.”
While the road is open. It is just the first phase of the project. The next phase will add sidewalks and underground utility wires.