City of Mountlake Terrace officially unveiled its new Van Ry Boulevard with a virtual ribbon cutting ceremony Jan. 22. The public road connects 244th Street Southwest and 236th Street Southwest adjacent to I-5; running from Gateway Place Business Park past the new Terrace Station development and ending where the future light rail station will be located.
It was named in honor of the city’s former Engineering Services Director Willem (Will) Van Ry, who retired in 2014 after nearly 40 years of service. The virtual ceremony included the Mountlake Terrace City Council, civic staff, Van Ry, former City Manager John Caulfield and representatives from Sierra Construction, Lake Union Partners and Rainier Pacific Properties.
Presented virtually due to the ongoing pandemic, participants assembled for a photo session a week prior to the online ceremony. Individual pictures were first taken with the ribbon, and photo editing tools were later used to create a group shot that respected COVID-19 protocols and protected the participants. Those gathered also took a socially distanced photo with masks on for the actual cutting of the ribbon.
A week before the virtual ceremony, a soft opening of the new public road also took place to allow nearby residents and businesses additional time to get familiar with access along the route. Van Ry said in an interview that he has already driven on his namesake boulevard once and felt honored by the experience. “It’s kind of humbling, but I’m also proud and I’m very thankful that the city council decided to recognize my 40 years of service,” he said.
City Manager Scott Hugill said that the new roadway represents a milestone of a long-term civic vision coming together and “really is that realization of transit-oriented development.”
The boulevard is a direct outgrowth of engineering and economic development planning working together, said Mountlake Terrace Senior Planner Edith Duttlinger. “That street created a public connection between 236th and 244th, which are both freeway interchanges, and so there is a lot of economic development that has been realized as a result.”
Van Ry was hired by the city as an engineering aide in 1974 and over the years advanced within the department from engineering technician to planner/designer, associate engineer and city engineer before being promoted to engineering services director in 2003. He helped plan and oversee many capital improvements projects during a city career that stretched across five decades.
These included reconstruction along 220th Street, the water reservoir and seismic retrofit, design and coordination of the Gateway Intersection, Cedargrove Sewer Pump Station reconstruction, a traffic calming program and design of the Interurban Trail improvement project. He also worked on grant evaluations and applications that netted the city many millions of dollars in grant awards.
Hugill said a key insight into Van Ry and his efforts is, “He would make sure that — whether we were designing it in-house or we were contracting with a firm to design it for us — that it was done with quality that didn’t end up costing the community more in the long run.”
In 2009, Van Ry was recognized with the City’s Vision Award for his leadership and exceptional work to improve community livability and quality of life.
That same year, City of Mountlake Terrace and Edmonds School District staff discussed the possibility of creating a new roadway in the area after the district decided to close the former Evergreen Elementary School. Once the school district sold the property, planning began on a new mixed-use, transit-oriented private development — now called Terrace Station –- that included a new roadway as part of the project.
After learning that Van Ry would be retiring, the city council voted unanimously to change the name of Gateway Boulevard, which was then a private road scheduled to become public, and rechristen it as Van Ry Boulevard in honor of his dedicated public service. Van Ry received a street sign of the future roadway at his retirement party.
Since retiring as the longest-tenured employee in the city’s history, Van Ry has returned multiple times on a temporary contract basis to assist the city with engineering and meeting deadlines on some of its major undertakings, such as Phase 1 construction of the Main Street Revitalization Project.
Many veteran city staff and representatives who worked or coordinated with Van Ry emphasized his patience, respect, dedication and professionalism on the job.
“He just wanted to see things come to light and he wanted to get projects done,” said Laura Sonmore, who has served on the Mountlake Terrace City Council for 20 years. It was an honor, Sonmore said, to name the new public boulevard in appreciation of Van Ry’s efforts. “Always when I will go by that street, I’ll kind of smile and think, ‘You know, a lot of love and sweat went into all his hard work.’”
Hugill said Van Ry was a “class act” who was good at working across departments and also explaining the important future value of projects. Hugill cited as a notable example how Van Ry helped him to understand the role that infrastructure, such as the Main Street reconstruction, plays in economic development. Hugill recalled being told, “You’ve got to roll out that asphalt carpet of blacktop for development to come,” which in turn would lead to more businesses, residents and jobs coming to Mountlake Terrace.
Van Ry said that he particularly enjoyed designing and constructing streets for the city because “you could see the work afterward (in contrast to underground infrastructure),” and he still indulges his passion for building things. Since his official retirement, he has enjoyed traveling internationally, along with wife Ginger and other volunteers, to assist in the construction of houses for communities in need. Those efforts, which he hopes to resume after the coronavirus pandemic is past, have taken him to Thailand, Sri Lanka, Ghana and Armenia.
The virtual ribbon cutting event can be viewed here.
— By Nathan Blackwell