With more than 65 people in the audience for a Monday night study session on the future of the Point Brown Avenue sidewalks/bike lanes and crosswalks project, nearly every public speaker questioned the current four proposed alternatives and offered other ideas for the main boulevard into Ocean Shores.
After over an hour of City Council discussion and review of alternatives A, B, C and D with Public Works Director Nick Bird, no clear consensus emerged on a preferred plan, with several council members suggesting modified versions to save costs and preserve parking for existing businesses.
Several key questions did come up, including whether the city could be required to repay much of the money it has received in grant funding to get this far through the preliminary design phase.
Another question was answered by Bird when he said the city must submit a report by April 1, describing how the city plans to proceed.
During public testimony, Shannon Rubin, manager of the Canterbury Inn, pointed out a state Department of Transportation letter (Sept. 2015) to Bird authorizing $346,000 of the federal share of the total $400,000 to do preliminary engineering on the project.
Rubin quoted the letter: “If this project is unable to proceed to construction, any expended federal funds must be repaid.”
To move forward with construction, another funding source would have to be secured, and the full cost in matching money for the city is likely to be about $2 million, Bird previously told the council.
The city also has received money from the Grays Harbor Council of Governments through the Surface Transportation Program, Bird noted. Other funding sources include the federal Transportation Alternative Program, which Bird said started the project funding, and the state Transportation Improvement Board.
“The Transportation Improvement Board is our primary funding partner. That’s who we are anticipating would be providing a large amount of capital for addressing safety-related concerns through the corridor,” Bird said.
Alternatives A, B and C all cost in the range of $15 million to complete construction, Bird said, while D gives a “noticeable reduction” in construction costs at about $12 million total, with an estimated $2 million in right-of-way purchases.
“But there was not a change in our out-of pocket expenses,” Bird said of the cost to the city. That’s because option D has what has been called “meandering sidewalks” that would require greater expense by the city to acquire right of way access prior to construction.
Bird said he had hoped the council would decide on a preferred alternative to move forward with proposed $300,000 in funding from the Transportation Alternative Program.
“That one is very time sensitive, and we need to get the ball rolling on that one,” Bird said.
“At the end of March, we intend to submit the planning report to the state that will finalize this segment of the project,” Bird continued. After that step, he added, “We can finally proceed to actually design the project we want to design.”
Councilwoman Holly Plackett suggested putting a cap of $8 million on the cost to move the project forward.
Councilman Jon Martin suggested a modified version of one or more of the alternatives, with Bob Peterson also offering up something similar, even asking what it would cost just to build asphalt pathways down the existing right of ways along Pt. Brown.
“We need to keep in mind that our primary purpose for this is pedestrian safety, putting sidewalks and crosswalks in,” Peterson said.
“I think this council has been very clear — we are not going to do a LID, we are not going to levy taxes against the businesses. I think we can do it,” Martin said.
Councilman Bob Crumpacker, who has stated his opposition to all the alternatives, noted the city long-term has to look at its requirements on new construction for sidewalks, parking needs, drainage issues, and utilities.
Most of the citizens questioned the overall need for such an extensive project, and they also wanted to see other issues addressed, such as the need for public restrooms and a potential parking garage that also is tsunami-safe.
“When we are talking about parking, I think that needs to be a bigger conversation as well. If we want people to be walking, we need to have a place for them to park,” Councilwoman Susan Conniry said.
Thorn Ward of John L. Scott Real Estate on Pt. Brown said the business community generally is in support of sidewalks, but not any of the four alternatives that have thus far emerged in the process. He suggested limiting the project by just building sidewalks from Chance a la Mer Street to Shoal Street.
“I have issues with all the plans, but not necessarily the whole project,” said Bill Vandenbush, who also advocated for parking behind the businesses and public restrooms.
Business owner Rod Merrell also noted: “It’s not about what you want, it’s about what we want.”
“Why can’t we just stop it and go back and try to figure out how we can put in safe sidewalks,” said resident Judy Hansey.
Piper Leslie, director of the Ocean Shores/North Beach Chamber of Commerce, spoke as a mother whose child walks down Pt. Brown after school to her office. She outlined the attributes of Ocean Shores as a beach community, but pointed out: “The one thing this is not there is sidewalks.”
Conniry asked: “What happens if we decide to do nothing at all?”
Bird replied that if the city doesn’t complete the report, he expected the city could have to pay back $200,000 to $250,000.