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New numbers for streetscape

'Value engineering’ suggests the city could save money on the project.

When discussing the Winslow Way Streetscape, few dispute the needs below ground, where utilities are failing.

Most conflicts arise when talk turns to street level, where more trees and artwork, as well as better lighting, are among the proposed elements in the $20.6 million project.

A new look by a fresh set of eyes agreed those elements should still be included, but not at the expense of what’s already on the ground.

“An already very rich amount of streetscape will be lost and replaced with a more cohesive, dense streetscape,” said a panel of experts hired by the city to evaluate the latest plans in a “value engineering study.”

The study, done at the urging of Councilwoman Kim Brackett, goes on to suggest that those elements should be “substantially reduced in quantity and variety, thereby allowing more of the existing features and existing character to remain.”

Though no changes have been incorporated yet, the suggested cuts to the streetscape would save the city $5.9 million.

The goal of the study was to have an outside source verify the city’s cost estimates and the planned scope of the work to see if any improvements could be made.

Many have raised concerns about whether the project is affordable or matches the desires of the community.

The panel – which included engineers and landscape architects – agreed with planners that utilities must be replaced and that the entire street will require reconstruction. It also confirmed that natural stormwater treatment and intersection improvements should be included, and that trenchless methods suggested by some should not be used.

Several cost-cutting measures were recommended for the project, which is scheduled to revamp Winslow Way, from state Route 305 to Grow Avenue.

Simplified storm drainage and grading would save $1.2 million. Changing the planned paving surface for the street, perhaps to pervious asphalt, could cut another $1 million. Recycling old street materials would save $224,000.

Planned street lighting would be cut in half to save $600,000; about the same amount would be saved by reducing the number of street trees.

The extent to which the city buries power lines also should be reconsidered, the report says. The city pays 40 percent of costs associated with undergrounding; Puget Sound Energy is responsible for the rest.

Eliminating plans for underground power west of Madison Avenue would save almost half a million dollars, according to the report.

Planners believe undergrounding should be scaled back even more than that, to include only portions of the road between the highway and Bjune Drive.

Existing poles elsewhere would need to be replaced, but the larger reduction could save the city $2.9 million.

Under the recommendation, public art would be cut by $200,000.

The art cut, plus the elimination of both shuttle service during construction and wood decking for sidewalks across the ravine, would save $606,500.

Members of the City Council Public Works Committee and the public got their first chance Monday to comment on the recently completed study.

“It’s actually huge that we were able to save $6 million,” Brackett said. “There will be opportunities to trim going forward. It was well worth the money to do this.”

The report cost the city $39,700.

Project Manager Chris Wierzbicki agreed with Brackett that the report was valuable. He said it confirmed several things about the project, including cost estimates, which were within $20,000 of the city’s.

Still, questions remain about several topics. The report suggested lengthening the construction schedule – work is set to begin in spring 2009 – from nine to 20 months. City planners would prefer to keep the old schedule to shorten the burden of construction on downtown property owners.

Members of the public on Monday weighed in on the plan.

“The single ugliest thing downtown is all the overhead power lines,” said Robert Dashiell. “I would frankly like to see the undergrounding (extended) to Grow.”

Others commented on paving surfaces, public art, lighting and whether major downtown businesses – namely Town & Country – are closely involved in planning.

Some worry that poor planning could force T & C from downtown.

“(T & C President) Larry Nakata really wants to stay downtown,” Wierzbicki said.

“Certainly we’d like him to stay. He’s very aware of what’s going on.”

Wierzbicki said the city needs to approve a new contract with Seattle firm Heery International by April to avoid delays.

Brackett said the new information is a good start, but more work lies ahead.

“These are all very good suggestions,” she said. “But is it enough?”

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