With the City of Centralia still working on the 14 traffic islands that have been built on First Street, many community members have expressed concern over the need and functionality of the structures.
The islands, two at each of the First Street cross streets E, H, J, K, M, N and Washington, are complete in their physical construction, but finishing touches still need to be made to help alert the drivers to their presence.
The work is being done as part of the Centralia Streetscape Phase One project and is set to address pedestrian safety improvements. The work is scheduled to end in July, said Sierra Anderson, engineer with the City of Centralia.
Centralia City Councilor Max Vogt said he’s been contacted by several community members with their concerns.
“Most of them are saying things like, ‘Oh, it makes you go so slow’ or ‘it’s inconvenient’ or ‘we don’t like the look of it,’” Vogt said. “And that’s really the purpose of what we are doing. The street was dangerous because of the school and because people used it … to quickly go from one end of town to the other, not necessarily obeying the speed limits.”
Edison Elementary is located at the east end of the project area.
Vogt said that, in most circumstances, if a person goes the speed limit on First Street — 25 miles per hour and 20 in the school zone — they “shouldn’t have any problem negotiating any part of it.”
Vogt said the islands are the best choice to slow people down, given the city’s limitations on the road.
“You can’t put speed bumps on a major road like that,” he said. “You can’t use turtles. There’s certain things you can’t use. But visually, you can make things so that you will drive slower, which is the reason why we did that.
“It’s just to slow down traffic … not only for the safety of the kids and pedestrians, but also the noise level in a residential neighborhood. People have been going way too fast.”
Mayor Pro Tem Cameron McGee said that while folks have not contacted him personally, he has heard the public’s concerns.
“Mostly, what I have heard is there’s a lot of confusion about what (the project’s) intent is, and where the funding is coming from,” McGee said.
As far as funding is concerned, he said the project is made possible by refunds from the city’s real estate excise tax “which can only be spent on very specific” things.
“It can’t be spent on road repair or maintenance,” McGee said. “Like, we can’t go fix roads with that money. Those dollars have to be spent on capital improvements and things of that nature. … Refunds are unable to be spent on road repairs, from what I understand.”
He said that, in general, he thinks “it’s a good move to slow traffic down in that area.”
“We just had somebody hit there last year on First. So with traffic calming, I think it’s not a terrible idea,” he said.
There have been some issues with the project currently being unfinished, McGee said.
Namely, the curbs along the side of the road adjacent to the islands were not painted yellow to keep people from parking in those places for a period of time while construction was ongoing.
This caused some accessibility issues when people mistakenly parked adjacent to the islands.
Now that the physical construction of the islands is complete, it’s just a matter of making sure the islands can be clearly viewed by the public.
Right now, there are temporary signs on the islands designed to let folks know of their presence, but they are not being fully effective in that multiple of them have been hit by the vehicles of unaware drivers.
“We put the signs up, hoping that people would see the change,” McGee said.
The solution, McGee said, is to paint the yellow stripes in the middle of the road, and have those stripes diverge from each other around the islands in reflective paint. The striping should be done on April 1.
“Once we get completely finished and we get everything striped … I think a lot of the issues that people are having with them will go away,” he said. “There will be yellow stripes all the way down the road, and then the yellow will go around them, and will be a lot more reflective.”
McGee noted that the curbs on the islands are rounded so that bigger trucks can roll over them if they have to.