Fair warning for roadwork on the horizon

It was a season of searing heat, and not just at the beach. Collars were plenty sticky behind the wheel and behind the counter.

The summer of 1992 brought discomfort for motorists

and merchants alike, as High School Road was torn up for reconstruction from Madison to Ferncliff. For weeks, a punishing sun sent dust clouds billowing across “the Oregon Trail,” as the project came to be known; motorists who tried to reach the Village shopping center braved a farrago of flaggers and heavy equipment as they crawled across the rutted track, causing many to abandon the quest and go elsewhere for goods and services. Businesses suffered, and city officials heard about it.

Their response? Billboards at each approach to the roadwork zone. The signs dutifully noted that Local Improvement District No. 13 was “Upgrading Our Island Transportation and Utility Services,” explained the project funding and promised that work would be done by October – and thanked the public for its “patience and cooperation.” But by then, both were in short supply.

Communication and public outreach have evolved a bit since then, as evidenced by a website newly launched by the city for our next big dig: Winslow Way, from Grow Avenue to the highway. At www.winslowwaystreetscape.org, islanders can get information on the massive road and utility project that’s slated to break ground – finally, after years of delays – in spring 2009, and wrap up in autumn of that year. It’s going to be another long summer, but perhaps this time we can weather the heat a bit more comfortably.

Fundamental to the Winslow Way project is the replacement of worn-out utility lines beneath the street, not particularly engaging from a public input standpoint. Islanders should, though, be more interested in what will be put back in place once the digging is done. Wider sidewalks in front of downtown businesses are expected, but there’s also the question of what other public amenities – the rest of the “streetscape” – the community wants to see. The obvious palette includes pedestrian islands and crosswalks; benches, planters and trees; public artwork; and informational signage for visitors. Also to be decided is how to treat the Winslow ravine crossing.

Because the project is in the early design phase, now’s the time to get involved. Members of the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association were briefed on the outreach program this week, as those merchants (like the High School Road businesses 15 years ago) have so much at stake in the outcome. The website – just one component of an effort that will include a Grand Old Fourth booth and an Aug. 1 kickoff at City Hall – offers the obligatory comment box, so islanders can chip in even if they can’t attend any of the countless public meetings that no doubt lie ahead. The site will be updated throughout the streetscape design phase and presumably beyond, a clearinghouse on everything from work hours to parking restrictions.

We’ve come a long way since signs announcing a major road project went up weeks after the project was under way. Who knows what summer 2009 will bring weather-wise, but some positive outreach now may keep it cooler.