North Bend plaza project on track for summer construction

Within the month, the city of North Bend will advertise for bids on construction of a long-planned downtown plaza, extending over two blocks of North Bend Way, between Bendigo and Ballarat Avenues.

The project will create a pedestrian-friendly downtown area, with wider sidewalks, improved street furniture and stormwater drainage, landscaping and the burial of utility lines in the North Bend Way/Main Avenue intersection for unimpeded views of Mount Si, said North Bend Public Works Director Mark Rigos.

“The Main intersection at North Bend Way is going to be substantially modified,” Rigos said, as will the roads leading to it. “Currently there are three travel lanes on Main Avenue, that’s going to be reduced to two,” as the sidewalks widen into bulbouts at the crosswalks.

North Bend Way will not lose any travel lanes, but the width of those lanes will decrease to allow for the wider sidewalks, bulbouts and other improvements.

Pedestrians may find that it’s easier to safely cross North Bend Way after the project, since the crosswalks will be shorter.

Drivers may notice another planned change at the main intersection; a raised center. Starting from the crosswalks, all four roads will slope upward to the intersection, and a maximum height of six inches.

Everyone will probably notice the most unique feature of the intersection, though.

“One of the neat parts of the project is that we’ve integrated some art into the intersection,” Rigos said. “We will have three lines, representing the three forks of the Snoqualmie River, etched into the concrete.”

This project, targeted to start by August and finish by November, is a distant cousin to the city council’s early visions for a downtown plaza, which extended to three intersections of North Bend Way, with a nine-month timeline and a price tag in the millions of dollars.

It still preserves the city’s goal of creating a pedestrian-friendly and livable atmosphere, said Rigos, but with much less negative impact.

Rigos said the city council and staff are well aware of the significant effect the construction will have on the downtown businesses located on North Bend Way, and they are working on ways to minimize problems. In March, he said, the city had surveyed business owners about their busiest days, to build a construction schedule around that, and last week, city staff met with each business owner individually to discuss the project and how to mitigate the negative effects.

“There’s going to be some short-term pain, we get it,” he said, “but there’s going to be long-term gain.”

Foremost in the short-term pain category is the expected to be loss of foot traffic and revenue as residents and tourists choose to avoid dusty construction zones, and the search for parking spots and decide to shop elsewhere.

Mitigating project impact

To accommodate the downtown businesses and their various needs, the city has already taken several steps, including creating a dedicated website for the project, with daily updates on parking availability, and a phased approach.

For example, all of the infrastructure underground work will be done at the start of the project Rigos said, but “We aren’t going to be doing all four sidewalks at once.”

Instead, each of the four stretches of North Bend Way sidewalk radiating from the Main intersection will be treated as a separate phase, said North Bend Deputy Public Works Director Tom Mohr, speaking with a group of downtown business owners gathered last Friday to discuss the project. The intersection will be the first phase.

Also, very little work will be done on Saturdays, which are generally busy days for most downtown businesses. Mohr assured business owners on Friday that he would do everything he could to meet their needs, with signs, schedule adjustments and increased communications during the project.

Likely the most important step the city is planning to minimize the negative effects of the project on businesses and residents alike, though, is the project’s very tight timeline.

“The contractor will have 60 working days, or roughly three months, to get the work done,” Mohr said Friday.

Although the project could officially start in July, after the city’s Block Party event July 22 and 23, Rigos noted that the heavy construction would not begin until August. The project will force a change to the annual Festival at Mount Si parade route, however.

Because of the limited project scope and the tight timeline, Rigos is hoping that bids on the work will fall within the range of the $1.4 million grant the city received last year from the Puget Sound Regional Council.

“Two years ago we received construction bids for the project, ranging between $1.3 and $ 1.8 million,” he said, but added that the price of concrete has increased since then.

Rigos also praised the council for making a smart decision last year, to return the initial $300,000 grant from the PSRC, rather than pursue the project at the time. When the city re-applied, it was awarded the $1.4 million grant. The grant requires a 13.5 percent match from the city Rigos said, but that has already been met with the city’s expenditures on design and other soft costs.

Citizens will be able to learn the specifics of the project at a public meeting, planned for 6 to 8 p.m. May 24 at the Mount Si Senior Center.

Downtown North Bend business owners gathered at Birches Habitat last Friday for a discussion of the city’s plaza project with North Bend Assistant Public Works Director, Tom Mohr, far right.                                Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo

Downtown North Bend business owners gathered at Birches Habitat last Friday for a discussion of the city’s plaza project with North Bend Assistant Public Works Director, Tom Mohr, far right. Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo