After nearly an hour spent detailing the possibilities for wide-ranging streetscape improvements to arterial streets connecting popular attractions near Interstate-5 with downtown Centralia, Brandon Johnson of SCJ Alliance did the math for those at the Centralia City Council workshop Tuesday who weren’t keeping track.
All told, the complete list of proposals such as decorative brick work, revamped street lighting, wayfaring signage and the installation of raised medians that in some cases would alter traffic flow on more than three road miles of Centralia streets came to nearly $8.5 million. Centralia has $3 million earmarked for streetscaping thanks to a recent bond issue that also backfilled a $1 million grant for renovations at the Fox Theatre.
Johnson and fellow SCJ Alliance employee Elisabeth Wooton warned members of the city council early on in their presentation that they did not try to make the project fit the budget during their first pass at drafting designs for stretches along Harrison Avenue, Main Street, Mellen Street and more. Rather, they wanted to put the best-case scenario on the table, one that would only be possible without financial constraints, then work with stakeholders from the city and members of the public to pick and choose priorities from there.
Johnson and Wooton made note Tuesday of actions that could help stretch the $3 million, such as applying for grant funding for certain aspects of the project. Another option could be to work in tandem with the Washington State Department of Transportation in 2021, which is when WSDOT plans to resurface much of state Route 507, which includes Mellen, Alder and West Cherry Streets as well portions of Tower Avenue and Pearl Street.
“We know we don’t have close to $8.5 million, but we wanted to start with what could be the world,” Johnson said. “Let’s start with if we had unlimited money, and now let’s have conversations with folks about what makes sense, what they like and don’t like, and then we can look at maximizing our money. … Do we expect we’re going to do all of these next year? No. But are there opportunities for phasing over multiple years to change how this town looks as you come from I-5 into downtown? Absolutely.”
Most of the renderings prepared by SCJ Alliance included the addition of raised island medians that would contain low-maintenance landscaping and provide refuge for pedestrians attempting to cross some of the busiest streets in Centralia.
At some locations, such as the intersection of Harrison Avenue and West 1st Street, those medians would add minor alterations the roadway by eliminating cross-traffic turning. The triangle-shaped intersection of Oak, Cherry and Alder Streets is another proposed location for a raised median.
Many intersections along key corridors would receive other enhancements to intersections such as the bump-out pedestrian curbing seen downtown, with some centralized crossings such as the intersection of Washington Avenue and Main Street getting a full decorative installation such as the medallion designs seen in the core of the downtown blocks.
“The approach we took to this is that it’s kind of an a la carte menu,” Wooton said. “We can take different elements and apply them to different streets based on the type of street that it is. That’s kind of the way we’re thinking about it.”
One streetscape idea not included in the renderings shown by SCJ Alliance was the addition of bike lanes along arterial streets. Some currently have wide parking lanes along the curb that theoretically allow bikers enough space to maneuver down the road, but others taper off and force bikers to merge into traffic or through crowded intersections.
Johnson responded to a question by council member Rebecca Staebler by saying that the scope of work at this point did not include the option of changing road configurations, but that if the public input process reveals a desire to reconsider the balance between parking and bike lanes, it could be added to the conversation. Members of the public who attended the workshop voiced their desire to have the city consider adding more bike lanes, which would come at the expense of on-street parking.
SCJ Alliance and city staff plan to hold a number of public workshops and online surveys during the coming months, similar to the process used during the design phase of the Borst Avenue overhaul scheduled to begin later this month. More information regarding those sessions and other aspects of the streetscape proposal will soon be made available online as well, according to Johnson.
“We will have to come down from the 10,000 foot view to street level, literally, to determine what projects are our priorities and can get the most bang for our buck,” Johnson said. “There are still a lot of conversations to be had.”