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Downtown’s new direction: $2 million street project means big changes for Snoqualmie core

Downtown Snoqualmie
Downtown Snoqualmie's Falls Avenue will see major changes as part of the city's downtown infrastructure renewal project, which gets rolling next month. Snoqualmie Public Works Director Dan Marcinko, who is supervising the bidding process, said all utility poles will be removed, their wires grounded. Street trees and decorative street lights will take their place.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Bye-bye, unsightly utility poles and uneven sidewalks. So long, speeding cars. Downtown Snoqualmie is about to get quite the workout.

Construction starts this spring on the city of Snoqualmie's $2 million-plus Town Center Infrastructure Improvement project. The job will tear up streets and sidewalks on Falls Avenue and parts of Railroad Avenue, bury utility poles and wires and add wider, decorative sidewalks, fluted streetlights and street trees.

Bump-out curbs will slow traffic and give the downtown area a new identity: that of a modern, pedestrian-friendly retail core.

All of the changes will mean months of disruption for shoppers and businesses, including closed street lanes and water outages. City officials hope to brace downtown business owners for the project by keeping them in the loop as plans unfold.

Bids for the job were solicited Jan. 12, and will be opened at 11 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 11, at City Hall. The project is expected to cost between $2 and 3 million. The scale of the job is expected to attract a large company.

"Right now is a great time for the city to be putting projects out," Marcinko said. "Contractors are falling over each other, trying to get the best price they can. It's really making them sharpen their pencils."

If the city council gives is approval in March, construction is expected to start in April. Work should be done in November, pending weather.

Plans are on view at City Hall and Isadora's Cafe. City officials including Marcinko and Economic Consultant Bob Cole meet monthly with downtown merchants and residents to share information on the project as it develops.

"It's my job to educate and communicate to them, the best I can," he said.

Busy year

Construction will entail some disruption on Highway 202 as Railroad Avenue is paved and sidewalks widened. However, 202 will remain a two-lane road during most of the construction.

Falls Avenue will become a one-lane road as utilities are installed. Contractors will provide signs and flaggers.

Emergency vehicle will be able to access the block, but shoppers and employees have been urged to park on Railroad Avenue or the King Street lot.

Water and power outages will come periodically, as the new water main and power lines are installed.

No work will be done during most weekends and special events, such as Day Out With Thomas. The former city hall will be the site for the construction headquarters.

"We're going to work with the contractor to see if they can pour concrete on a Monday or Tuesday, a slower part of the week, and the earlier, the better," Marcinko said. "There will be constant communication with the business owners to phase it in front of their place of business."

"It's going to be a rough year," Marcinko added. "People like construction to happen between midnight and 4 a.m. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen that way. To get to the final end product, which will enhance the area, you need to go through a little bit of disruption."

Construction hassles will be worth it, he said.

"It's going to be incredible how nice this is going to look," Marcinko said. "It's going to be a great asset for our community."

Getting access

Construction plans have some downtown business owners wondering how they'll get customers or needed supplies in the door.

At Snoqualmie Market, owner Soon Kwon was surprised to learn of plans to close Falls Avenue to a single lane. He relies on as many as 30 large truck deliveries each week, and pondered how they would happen without access to his small Falls loading dock.

Across the street, Snoqualmie Falls Brewery and Taproom gets at least three freight truck visits each week. Even a week's loss of truck access would be too long, brewer Randy Reed said.

"We're on a tight, just-in-time inventory," said brewery general manager Janelle Pritchard. "Stuff has to come in and go out on a constant basis."

Businesses have been asked by the city to provide a schedule of deliveries and important events to the contractor, when that party is chosen.

"As soon as they get that, we're going to work closely with them to guarantee that we get access when we need it," Pritchard said.

She views the project as a whole as positive for downtown businesses.

"We just need to communicate, so that they can work around us and we can work around them," Pritchard said.

Carmichael's True Value Hardware owner Wendy Thomas's business is on the periphery of construction, but Thomas is already thinking up ways to capitalize on the project, rather than suffer.

To promote downtown visits during the work, Thomas is organizing a "Tunnel of Transportation" promotion. On special days, such as groundbreakings or other milestones, shoppers can get stamps on a "passport" for special deals.

"I think it's going to creep up on people," she said of the work. "You need to start planning now about what you're going to do, to make this an opportunity."

"We're trying to have the community pull with us through this thing," Thomas added.

In one example, Thomas suggested families come to celebrate sidewalk pours, perhaps making their own mark in the wet cement.

Fuesel agreed with efforts to turn a potential negative of construction into a community event.

"All of a sudden, it's a positive thing," he said.

Business owners who are engaged in the downtown community have been receptive to the passport plan, Thomas said.

Foot-friendly

Early designs of the infrastructure fix show downtown's future pedestrian-friendly feel.

Sight distances for vehicles entering traffic on downtown block is expected to improve, thanks to the corner sidewalk "bump-outs" at intersections.

Besides the bump-outs, sidewalks on Railroad Avenue will be widened two extra feet, to 10 feet. On Falls, sidewalks grow from four feet to seven.'

Graphic elements in the pavements and gratings echo the wheels and iron of the Northwest Railway Museum and other historic themes.

"There's so much going on here," said Paul Fuesel, plan designer for KPG Engineering of Seattle. "We have the falls, the river, the history of the buildings to celebrate. The railroad is half the downtown. Natural beauty came up. So we said. 'Let's do a little of both.'"

"The idea of these improvements is not only to celebrate these storefronts and get people to shop here, but also to get people to come around" to Falls Avenue, to use the parking there and help reenergize the Falls block, Fuesel said.

The work adds more than 30 diagonal parking spaces on Falls Avenue's south side.

Street trees and decorative gratings add to the urban-plaza look. Utility boxes will be sealed and buried, or placed on concrete plinths to get them out of the floodway.

Rounded curbs on Falls Avenue will allow garbage and recycling containers to be wheeled out to the roadway on garbage day, then wheeled back, out of sight, after pick-up.

The south side of Falls Avenue, near the Northwest Railway Museum, is not affected by the project. Due to the bump-outs, a few parking stalls will be removed near the main intersections.

The bulging sidewalks at the intersections of River and King Street with Railroad Avenue should make it easier for pedestrians to cross the highway.

"When you narrow things up, it forces you to slow down," Marcinko said.

The project does not include a downtown traffic light. The city's long term capital facilities plan calls for a light, but a traffic study is needed to determine whether Newton or River Street is the best place for one.

Bob Cole, Economic Development Consultant to the city, said it is time for downtown property owners to step up and upgrade their lots. Federal grants, Snoqualmie's effort to redraw the Federal Emergency Management Administration flood map of downtown, and the new City Hall all point to the historic area's higher profile, he said.

"A lot of money has gone into downtown," Cole said. "Now, we want to get property owners to make some investments as well."

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