Digging in to the ‘Core 40’ roads, paths

Public Works embarks on a comprehensive list of projects.

One could call it a simplified streetscape.

Nothing fancy, just a widened shoulder to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety along Bucklin Hill Road.

At first blush, maybe not a big deal. Or is it?

“It’s a small part of a big deal,” said Public Works Director Randy Witt.

That’s because when finished, the Bucklin Hill shoulder widening project – approved unanimously by the City Council last week – will be the first stretch of road to be completed as part of the island’s “Core 40,” a designation that is exactly what it sounds like – 40 roads identified as priorities in the effort to improve the island’s non-motorized network.

Along with being the first tangible piece of the Core 40, the $100,906 project will be a testing ground for a new road construction model that, if it proves successful, could be duplicated elsewhere.

“It’s exciting because this is the first one with the directed work approach,” Witt said. “It’s not your typical bid-build contract.”

Instead, the city will hire and manage outside crews to do the work. Doing so saves costs, Witt said, and allows the city to finish the work faster than it would with its own crews, which are already stretched thin.

Changes are afoot at the design level as well. The new model makes for less intensive design and more flexibility once the work begins because engineers can make slight alterations on-site as the project progresses.

“It isn’t an appropriate approach to every project,” said City Engineer Ross Hathaway. “There are some places where it wouldn’t work, but where it does work I think it will be a good change.”

The Bucklin Hill project will begin next month. Hathaway said the city hopes to begin work next year on a more “challenging” stretch of the road, at the head of Eagle Harbor.

Several other non-motorized and trail efforts are at various stages of completion.

The city last month hosted its final meeting in a series of meetings about planned improvements on North Madison.

Neighbors and cyclists have long complained about safety concerns on the street; they’ve also been clear that any changes made there, said City Engineer Bob Earl, shouldn’t drastically alter the feel of the street.

“People have said they don’t want to overspend on something that’s too big,” he said. “The main thing we’ve heard is, ‘for Pete’s sake, don’t fail to do something.’”

Plans for now call for a meandering path, separated from the roadway on the west side of the street, and the construction of four foot shoulders on both sides of the road.

Earl said the topography of the street forced the path to the west side of the road, something that hasn’t sat well with some property owners. Planners will walk the street with residents over two days next month to better define the path’s possible route.

“I think there are ways to design around those properties (that have concerns),” Earl said.

Work on the project, currently budgeted at $722,000, is set to begin next year.

Meanwhile, two projects aimed at improving pedestrian safety in school zones are moving at different speeds.

Construction is set to begin soon on a path at the north end of Wilkes Elementary School. The path will be built on the south side of Day Road between the school and Vista Drive, and likely will be connected over time to trails in the area.

Construction should only take a few weeks, Earl said, and will make access to the school safer. The path will cost $157,000.

A larger pedestrian safety improvement project at Blakely Elementary School last week received a bid that was $68,000 above the $186,000 the city has budgeted for the work.

The high bid is the second such setback for the project, which drew no interest from contractors the first time it went to bid.

Plans call for traffic calming and new signage, among other changes. The city hasn’t yet decided how to proceed with the project.

Several trail efforts have recently wrapped up or are nearing completion.

Crews this week are expected to finish work on a trail connecting Cave Avenue to the new footbridge, next to State Route 305, in front of the Vineyard Lane condominiums.

The 250-foot long bridge was built and paid for by Vineyard Lane. It was installed earlier this year to better connect residents there to the downtown.

Since the bridge is for public use, the city agreed to build the trail connecting it to Cave.

A number of trails have been built or improved recently at the north end of the island, according to Park District Director Arlan Elms.

An improvement effort was just finished on a trail connecting McRedmond Lane to the Grand Forest.

The popular horse trail was built about five years ago, Elms said, but hadn’t been maintained.

Several new or improved trails are at or near completion near Lovegreen, including half mile loop around the former gravel pit at Ray Peterson Bulldozing.

The park district has done work on several city trails over the past year because the city can’t keep up with the large volume of work.

“They just don’t really have the time to do it all themselves,” Elms said.

Which is why engineers hope they can increasingly enlist the help of outside crews to accomplish projects.

Earl said the city may need to aggregate three or four projects at a time to avoid attracting high bids like the one received at Blakely.

“For (contractors), it’s all about tons of asphalt,” he said. “We need to create a big enough body of work or we could continue to have trouble bidding projects.”

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