Newport Way to get redo of improvements
March 23, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
Council’s split vote is rare
The city will spend $120,000 on a controversial overhaul for a section of Newport Way Northwest, City Council members decided last week.
Several months after workers completed upgrades to a section of the road from state Route 900 to Lakemont Boulevard, crews will create bike lanes on both sides of the corridor. Asphalt curbs will be added to create a barrier between the westbound bike lane and a pedestrian path. Meanwhile, a double white line and a rumble strip added during earlier construction will be removed.
City Public Works Engineering Director Bob Brock said work on the project should begin by late April and last about two weeks. Expect flag crews to direct traffic during parts of the construction; work will take place between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Officials hope the redo will prevent drivers from using a multipurpose path for bicyclists and pedestrians as a travel lane. Planners intend for the new curbs to replace unsightly temporary guideposts.
Workers widened the road last year from state Route 900 to the Interstate 90 interchange at Lakemont Boulevard. The project created a 12-foot trail and a gravel shoulder on the north side of the road; the additional width allowed a shoulder between three and eight feet wide along the south side.
As the project neared completion, however, city staffers received complaints about drivers in the improved section of roadway. Motorists used the widened shoulder as another lane — despite the double white line, the rumble strip and signs with “No driving on shoulder” warnings posted throughout the corridor.
Mayor Ava Frisinger and other officials held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the upgrades in October.
But the problems continued after the work ended. Workers added flexible guideposts — nicknamed “candles” or “candlesticks” — along the roadway to prevent drivers from using the trail as a travel lane, to little avail.
“There are folks, unfortunately, that just delight in mowing those things down,” Councilman Fred Butler said during the March 15 council meeting.
Butler and other project supporters approved the overhaul in a split decision. Officials will use money from the city Street Improvement Fund to pay for the project.
Councilman Joshua Schaer — who lives in a residential development along the affected section of Newport Way Northwest — urged colleagues to vote against the plan. He said residents used the widened shoulder for parking during heavy snow last winter, when snow and ice left steep driveways unsafe.
“I think if we go forward on this tonight, it sets a very bad precedent for approving road projects in this city without full cooperation and participation by the public,” he said before the rare 4-3 vote. “There’s no rush to do this. This thing has been open since October of last year. There’s simply no hurry.”
Safety concerns dominate debate
Schaer also chided city officials for spending dollars to rework the just-completed project.
“We’re talking about a project that was considered done,” Schaer said. “We had a ribbon cutting. It was touted in this year’s State of the City address as one of our accomplishments that we’d done in the past year.”
Schaer — joined by Councilman Tola Marts and Councilwoman Maureen McCarry — voted against the project.
Council Transportation Committee members reviewed the measure March 4. Schaer — the Transportation Committee chairman — voted against the decision to send the item to the full council for discussion.
During the March 15 council meeting, he attempted to send the measure back to the committee for additional discussion. The effort failed during another split vote.
“If you all approve this bill, you can do so as people who don’t live on the street and don’t see it every day, but you’re making a bad decision to do that, and you’re cutting out the people who we represent from the discussion and the participation,” Schaer said.
The remark prompted the mayor to caution council members against making ad hominem arguments — sharp language directed at other members.
Other council members said the cost, although steep, could prove to save money for the city during the next several years.
“The fiscal conservative part of me definitely had the toughest debate with this topic,” Councilman Mark Mullet said. “The analogy I kept going back to in my head is, if you get a hole in your roof and it starts leaking, you can patch it up with a piece of plastic and you will keep the water out.”
Although the “candlesticks” could divide the path from the roadway, Mullet said, the situation called for a permanent solution.
“At some point, I think, when things are going to be there for 30 years, I think you’re better off to spend the extra money if it’s reasonable,” he continued.
Council members labeled the “candlesticks” as the main problem in the corridor, because the barriers had done little to improve safety.
“Flexible guideposts can be ignored. They are a visual blight that requires additional cost to maintain, and have proven to be ineffective,” Butler said.
Paul Winterstein, a bicycle commuter who uses the pathway and a member of the city Human Services Commission, urged the council to oppose the project.
“I do not believe the removal of the rumble strip is a good idea,” he said. “That creates a very clear visual clue to operators of vehicles that there is a physical separation between them and their vehicle and someone like myself on the other side.”
Butler acknowledged the tough nature of the decision, but said the council needed to act to improve safety along a key commuter corridor.
“I don’t think there’s a solution here that’s going to make everyone happy,” he said. “It’s important that whatever we do, we do that right.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.