Pierce County taps low-interest bond market for road upgrades

The Pierce County Council Tuesday authorized the county to sell $24.2 million in bonds for projects to relieve traffic choke points and stimulate the local economy. The council previously voted to sell nearly $24 million in transportation bonds on July 28, 2009, for a total of nearly $48 million over the past two years.

“Selling these bonds now means road projects will be completed earlier, and for less money, than if we waited until the economy improves and interest rates go up again,” Council Chair Roger Bush said. “The timing for both of these bond sales couldn’t have been better.”

Proceeds from the latest bond sale will support upcoming road projects including:

— widening Canyon Road East from 160th Street East to 176th Street East;

— replacing the 176th bridge over the railroad tracks between 51st Avenue East and Canyon Road;

— widening Wollochet Drive NW from 40th Street NW to East Bay Drive NW on the Gig Harbor Peninsula; and

— planning for the widening of 176th from Waller Road to B Street.

All of the bonded projects should be finished by fall 2012. They are part of the county’s six-year Transportation Improvement Program, which is updated annually.

The county will sell the taxable Build America Bonds at a historic interest rate of 3.2 percent, which will save the county $2.4 million over the 20-year life of the bonds. The rate on the municipal bonds sold in July was 3.9 percent, which was an all-time low at the time. The Build America Bonds differ from municipal bonds because they are offered to a wider variety of investors.

Even though Pierce County has suffered along with other counties and cities during the current recession, Bush said the county still qualifies for the low-interest loans because it has worked hard to protect its positive bond rating by maintaining adequate cash in its savings account.