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Winslow Way’s ‘big dig’ moving forward

New utilities, wider sidewalks, better amenities are among the plans for downtown.

With stable financial footing, the City Council has taken its first hesitant steps into the dark, dank underbelly of Winslow Way.

The council on Wednesday approved almost $1 million to begin planning the overhaul of aging infrastructure below downtown’s main thoroughfare.

“Moving forward with the ‘big dig’ is probably the biggest thing to happen to downtown Winslow,” said Councilman Jim Llewellyn. “I’m particularly pleased we’ve come this far. We’re putting both feet on the ground with the intent to move forward.”

City staff applauded and shook hands after the council’s unanimous vote to spend $936,602 to hire a private contractor to lead planning and public outreach efforts.

The “big dig,” which could break ground next spring, will include replacement and repair of Winslow Way’s power, sewer, water and stormwater systems, according to Public Works officials. Above-ground upgrades are also in the works, including improved parking, wider sidewalks, gathering spots and other pedestrian amenities between Grow Avenue and State Route 305.

The project’s total price tag could hit the $20 million mark.

“It’s a heck of a lot of money to pave three or five blocks downtown, but think about what we’re doing with those millions of dollars,” Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said.

Seattle-based contractor Heery International will lead the project. The firm recently managed system-wide capital improvements for the Seattle School District and a renovation of the SeaTac airport. On Bainbridge, Heery will facilitate the early phase of Winslow Way’s redevelopment, including cost estimates, project administration, technical reports and various efforts to inform citizens and gather input.

Winslow Way upgrades are long overdue and necessary to match the expected growth slated for downtown, city staff say.

“The old infrastructure is showing its age,” said Assistant Public Works Director Lance Newkirk. “Some pipes are actually broken and cracked. It’s pretty evident we need to do something.”

According to Newkirk, some stormwater pipes, which drain street runoff, have failed. Downtown sewage pipes, most of which are over 30 years old, have numerous cracks, potentially allowing groundwater to infiltrate the system.

Water pipes are too small to accommodate expected population growth and may fall short of fire code.

“We need to work on water to support the goals of the Comprehensive Plan and add population in the downtown core so the community can develop as it envisioned,” said Newkirk.

City officials heralded the project as the first major step in implementing Winslow Tomorrow’s recommendations.

“This is real important if we want to keep the uses downtown that people treasure,” said Winslow Tomorrow Project Manager Sandy Fischer. “It took some doing but, after three years, we’re now doing something.”

Llewellyn said planning for the “big dig” has an even longer history.

“Nine years ago – the first year I was on the Public Works Committee – they were designing what Winslow Way was supposed to look like,” he said. “Now the concept can move into the concrete.”

Council Chair Chris Snow said the desire to redo Winslow Way is what led to Winslow Tomorrow.

“This rebuild of Winslow Way was discussed six years ago,” he said. “It got renamed Winslow Tomorrow.”

While the council expressed strong support for the project, the broader downtown redevelopment costs remain a concern.

“The ‘big dig’ is an infrastructure requirement, but I want to see what this will cost the community in total,” said Councilman Bill Knobloch.

Of particular concern for Knobloch are the full costs of downtown upgrades recommended by Winslow Tomorrow.

City Finance Director Elray Konkel said funding will likely come from “a myriad of sources,” including voter-approved bonds, council-approved bonds, a downtown taxing district, loans and grants.

Over the next 20 years, Winslow Tomorrow could cost $100 million, Konkel said.

Knobloch said voters should have their say over whether the city goes into debt or increases taxes to fund Winslow Tomorrow projects.

Councilwoman Debbie Vancil said Wednesday’s decision to spend nearly $1 million to plan a key component in the overall redevelopment of Winslow is a small step leading to many larger ones.

“This is just one million,” she said. “Wait until we get into the tangibles. This contract is like a step off the diving board.

It’s committing us to move forward.”

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