A $2 million-plus makeover for Sitka’s downtown main street is back on — maybe. The Sitka Assembly voted last summer to postpone the project for a year for additional study, but at a work session Tuesday night (12-10-19) city staff said that postponing the project came with its own caveats. And some residents are just antsy to get it done.
Lincoln Street was originally scheduled to be repaved this fall, and its storm drain system upgraded. But when the assembly met in July, it directed city staff to postpone plans to repair Sitka’s main thoroughfare for one year, calling for more community input.
Some Sitkans, like Bill Foster weren’t all that happy about that.
“I was really disappointed when the project was postponed, I guess for two reasons,” he said. “One, I’d like to see it before I die.”
Foster was one of a handful of residents to discuss their views on plans to make Lincoln Street a little more people-friendly.
Interim Administrator Hugh Bevan wanted more assembly direction on the project. Under the current plan, Lincoln Street would be repaved and the sewer system would be upgraded, along with new pedestrian safety features like bulbouts and raised crosswalks. The plan also introduces some traffic calming measures, and alters the traffic pattern of American and Barracks streets, making them each one way.
Bevan said, as he saw it, the assembly had three options: Move ahead with the project as is and put it out to bid, postpone the project and increase the budget with a new scope, or hire an architectural consultant to work with the public on a “visioning process,” a recommendation from the Tree and Landscape Committee.
Assembly member Richard Wein said wasn’t crazy about the design and other aspects of the current plan, and said they shouldn’t hurry the process.
“This is not De Groff Street where it’s tucked back and you’re doing regular maintenance,” he said. “I’ll say, it’s kind of like plastic surgery, this is your face and you want to do it correctly. This is the face of the city.”
Assembly member Kevin Mosher said he wanted to make sure that once they started pulling up the pavement, they could change course if it turned out the cost would be over $2.2 million.
“My only concern right now, with saying yes, say we were voting today, would be that we barely have enough,” he said. “I’m concerned that we open up the ground and it’s gonna, could it double?”
He asked if they could limit the scope of the project if it looked like it was going to exceed the anticipated budget. And he asked Bevan what the downside would be if they waited a couple of years before pulling the trigger.
“There’s always a risk when you know you have problems underground and you’re not taking care of them,” said Bevan. “I haven’t heard that there’s any disastrous issues with the water pipes,” he said. “But as we go forward in time, there’s more and more pressure on what money the assembly does have, so if you set a project aside, there’s always a possibility that you won’t be able to get back to this stage easily.”
Thor Christianson was wary of postponing the project or adding more steps, like a consulting process, which he said would make future fixes to Lincoln Street less plausible.
“This is not a redesign of the street really, this is nibbling at the edges,” he said. “If we decide not to go with this, we really are deciding not to do it at all, because by the time you get through the consulting process,” he said, “we’ll have spent so much of the money that there’s not any money left to move dirt.”
Bevan and city engineer Cliff Richter walked away planning to bring the project back for a vote in the coming weeks. But Richter asked assembly members to really spell out why they’re voting the way they do when they vote, so staff can move forward.
“A ‘yes’ vote for the project is crystal clear. A no vote represents- I think, assembly members will be voting no for different reasons,” said Richter. “Some might be because they want to do more and some might be voting no because they want to do less and I’d encourage you guys to maybe recognize that and somehow explain what your no vote means.”
“Might be a challenge, by golly,” said Mayor Gary Paxton.
The assembly should take up the item again at its regular meeting on Monday, December 23.
Read additional coverage of the 12-10-19 Sitka Assembly meeting here
The City of Sitka provides minutes and full video or audio of all Sitka Assembly meetings. Watch the 12-10-19 meeting here:
Tuesday, December 10, 2019 Sitka Assembly Meeting