PENDLETON - Sen. Gordon Smith is committed to obtaining federal funds for a majority of the proposed Barnhart Road extension.

Tucker Bounds, Smith's press secretary, said Tuesday that the senator will ask for nearly $4 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to connect the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport to Interstate 84 at exit 202, west of Pendleton.

"Improving the access to Pendleton's airport will substantially increase its attractiveness to outside business interests," Smith said. "Federal money exists for economic development projects like these, and I'm committed to finding a way to get those funds to Oregon.

"This project is a top priority. A promising project in Pendleton is naturally going to become a priority of mine, particularly when it stands to provide real economic opportunity for our local community."

Smith, a Republican, grew up in Pendleton and maintains a home here.

His funding request will follow one by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, who included $3.9 million for the proposed Barnhart Road extension in the initial House appropriations bill. The House and Senate bills eventually will be combined by a conference committee, probably by late fall.

If built, the extension would allow trucks to exit the freeway a few miles west of Pendleton and reach the industrial park via mostly level ground. Currently, trucks must negotiate Rieth Ridge and airport hill to get to the industrial park.

Developing Barnhart Road to access land around the airport has been a city goal for some time, with city officials calling it the key to future jobs and economic development.

In a visit to Pendleton in late March, Walden said Barnhart Road would compete with hundreds of state and federal projects for scarce federal funding. The project is predicted to cost nearly $5 million.

City Manager Larry Lehman has said the city's share of the cost would likely be $800,000 to $1 million. The city's share of the overpass under construction in west Pendleton was $1.2 million, which it raised with a 2-cents-per-gallon fuel tax. That tax was discontinued when the funding goal was reached after about four years.

Lehman has said renewing the fuel tax would be one option for raising the city's share of a Barnhart Road project. Other options would be asking voters to approve a general obligation bond or draining the city's system development fund.

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