State takes reins in tunnel project

Just days after opposition to the proposed Bremerton tunnel submitted more than 3,000 signatures in hopes the item would appear on the Nov. 2 ballot, the state took the project out of the city’s hands.

A July 13 letter to city officials, Washington State Transportation Department Secretary Douglas MacDonald cited state law that requires the DOT to “exercise all powers and perform all the duties necessary, convenient, or incidental to the planning, locating, designing, constructing, improving, repairing, operating and maintaining (of) state highways.”

The $28 million plan backed by Mayor Cary Bozeman and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Belfair) would create a tunnel starting at the Washington State Ferry terminal and ending on Burwell Street (State Route 304).

The project has reached a point where the state “needs to deliver this project,” said Linda Mullen, communications director for Washington DOT.

“It really does by in large take the city out of the loop,” Bozeman said. “I always believed this was a state highway project.”

The move, however, came as a surprise to Citizens Against The Tunnel who filed 3,100 signatures with the city Monday, demanding the project go to a public vote.

Louis Soriano, a staunch opponent to the tunnel called the decision “back door politics” because the media, council and public were not informed this was where the project was going.

“We’ve put forth a great amount of effort the past four months,” he said.

The group spent several weekends gathering signatures outside grocery stores. It also mailed out 10,000 petitions asking the City Council to place the measure on the ballot.

On Monday CATT members felt confident the community supported their cause.

Gene Hart, who never missed a weekend of signature gathering, called support for axing the tunnel plans “overwhelming.”

“I’m trying to put this gently, (the tunnel) was a stupid idea,” Hart said Monday outside City Hall.

The signatures are expected to be certified by the Kitsap County Auditor’s Office, late next week. There were about 1,000 more than what the law required.

Soriano said it’s too early to tell which direction the group will take.

“We’re up against Goliath. It’s unbelievable.”

Currently the project is undergoing environmental assessments. Mullen said the DOT plans to take public input, but just how and when it will occur has not been determined.

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