A $2.16 million dollar repaving project for Sitka’s main downtown street has been postponed for a year, while city gathers more citizen input on the design.
Lincoln Street originally was scheduled to be repaved this fall, and its storm sewer system upgraded.
But along with that basic work, there were some other details — mainly changes in traffic patterns and parking — that caught the attention of assembly member Steven Eisenbeisz, who owns a downtown store.
“I had a concern that this project has morphed from a simple grind-and-overlay, to a rather large and complex project, potentially spending more money than is necessary in order to do this,” he said. “I also have a concern that we morphed our downtown corridor into something that, while it may be extremely functional from a public works standpoint, may not be what the citizens want.”
Eisenbeisz went on to say that he thought the project was “overengineered,” and he urged delay.
Mayor Gary Paxton, however, was wary of postponing the project.
“If we keep not getting things done, then the task list just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Paxton. “Having said that, this is the most important street in our town, and we’ve got to get it right.”
“Getting it right” was the quandary for assembly members. The storm drains under Lincoln Street are inadequate and failing — some businesses commonly experience flooding in their basements. On the sidewalk, many of the accessibility ramps were put in after-the-fact, and aren’t compliant with modern standards.
Public works has attempted to incorporate solutions into the design — but at a cost: There are bump-outs — or bulb-outs — planned at the major crosswalk ramps, which constrict the traffic lanes, and less overall parking along the street.
Public works director Michael Harmon said the project involved a lot of compromise.
“It’s kind of a hard yes or no answer to the ramps,” Harmon said. “Nothing in life’s ever that simple. So if we go no bulb-outs with some of those ramps, some of the store owners have to move their doors. You can’t make it work. You can’t drop the elevation down and match their door. Or you have to take parking, or you have to give up something else. There are different solutions here, but they all have pros and cons, and impacts.”
Public works has held three public presentations on the plan, and the design alternatives were vetted through the Police and Fire Commission. But assembly member Richard Wein wanted to go further, to dispel the idea that the project was being done foremost with Sitka’s cruise visitors in mind.
“But we also need to consider those people who are staying here during the winter,” said Wein, “so it needs to have a dual utility, and I don’t think this plan makes it. My notion is to put the brakes on it, start to rethinking it, have some additional work sessions and public et cetera’s, and start again.”
And with that, the assembly directed the Public Works Department to push back the $2.2 million dollar project for one year.