Halls Hill: what’s around the bend?

Neighbors and city officials mull repairs to a damaged road at the island’s south end.

With uphill neighbors worried about construction traffic and downhill residents concerned about runoff and stability, Public Works offered up plans for fixing dilapidated Halls Hill Road Tuesday night.

Designs for the road were welcomed by many at the meeting.

“It’s a mess. It’s dangerous for two cars to pass,” said Nate Thomas, a resident of nearby Taylor Avenue, as he mulled over design diagrams. “It is really important that the city move ahead.”

Public Works project manager Larry Ward said the idea was to present a “menu” of options. Cardboard placards and diagrams showed two meat-and-potatoes repair jobs, and two higher-priced plans to widen and rebuild the entire road.

On the low end, a spot repair project would put asphalt over cracks and potholes created by years of wear and rain damage; add guard rails in the most treacherous stretches; and finish replacing the lines of sandbags with a raised curb, all at an estimated price of $280,000.

A more comprehensive $475,000 project would level the roadway, add storm drainage with water catchments, overlay the grade with two inches of asphalt and run a guard rail the length of the road.

The two more intensive options would widen the roadway by three feet by cutting into the uphill slope and adding a retaining wall. The extra room would accommodate a bike lane but would require the removal of trees downhill of the road.

The construction of the new roadway would run $1.075 million with a rock retaining wall or $1.745 million if a concrete wall was used.

Also displayed was a design to build a curved, five-way stop at the intersection of Halls Hill, Blakely Avenue, Blakely Hill Road, Seaborn Road and 3-T Road, which would provide a turnaround for trucks.

Ward said that every one of the roughly two-dozen respondents favored the two repair plans that would reopen the roadway to truck traffic the soonest.

Like any project, the decision will be largely driven by the budget, City Engineer Bob Earl said.

Unless money for Halls Hill is set aside in the city budget, Public Works would use money from its general road maintenance fund to make some repairs, but not enough to lift the three-ton weight limit that has been imposed on the road.

“Anything we can do to make (residents) feel safer than they did yesterday is what we’ll do,” Earl said.

Many community members said the widened road and bike lane were unnecessary, and that the focus should be on fixing the roadway. Earl sees the two widening options as ways of anticipating growth and higher levels of traffic.

“I look at the two plans with (mechanically stabilized earth) walls and what I think is, ‘in about 10 to 15 years, will I need that 3 feet then?’” he said.

For years, Halls Hill Road has been the literal center of a swarm of safety concerns. At the top of the ridge, development has increased truck traffic, and because of the weight limit on Halls Hill Road, those trucks are concentrated into narrow residential lanes.

Bob Lawrence of Mill Heights Circle said truck traffic often begins at 7 a.m. and continues through the afternoon. He’s concerned about the safety of children and pets on the street as many of the trucks have trouble negotiating the narrow curves near his home.

“I’d prefer they would go up Halls Hill Road directly to the site,” he said.

Below the road on Seaborn Road and Rockaway Beach Drive, squeezed in between the sheer side of Halls Hill and the banks of Blakely Harbor, fears persist about the stability of the slope and runoff residents have seen pouring into the harbor.

In the summer of 2006 residents there convinced the City Council to close the road until the slope’s stability could be determined. The road was reopened several weeks later after a consultant deemed the hillside safe.

Later the city admitted to skimping on replanting a swath of hillside above the road, which had been cleared for re-grading.

Some residents below the slope aren’t convinced that the slope has been proven safe and believe the city’s failure to replant the hillside properly has exacerbated the threat of landslides.

Curt Winston of Seaborn Road said his previous concerns about slope stability had been met by city engineers.

“No engineer is going to sign off on something that’s going to fall down and kill someone,” he said. “If they’re satisfied, then I’m satisfied.”

Winston hopes Public Works can find the budget to move forward with a design that will both fix the roadway and provide effective storm drainage.

“I think they need to look at the runoff coming from the uphill development,” he said. “Hopefully there will be enough sediment settlement that it won’t come out looking like the Amazon basin.”

Susan Bottles, who lives at the five-way intersection, said rainwater from the hillside runs down onto the road and freezes, wearing the asphalt and creating slippery conditions. She favors a full repair to make the intersection safer for drivers and walkers.

“As someone who has fallen there three times personally, I can speak to that,” she said.

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