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Pioneer makeover advances

David Yeoman of Perteet, a company out of Everett, surveys street levels along Pioneer Way. Construction is estimated to take place in 2010. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
David Yeoman of Perteet, a company out of Everett, surveys street levels along Pioneer Way. Construction is estimated to take place in 2010.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Pioneer Way is under the city’s microscope, again.

Dating back to the 1970s, a variety of studies have scrutinized Oak Harbor’s downtown hub in the way of parking, accessibility and business health.

“It has been studied pretty much to death,” Russ Pabarcus, a city civil engineer, said Wednesday afternoon.

Past projects proposed improvements that were far from feasible in regards to the amount of available funding, he said. As recent as 2007, a city consultant and city planning staff worked on a “streetscape” design for Pioneer Way with angle-in parking, pedestrian-friendly areas, special event areas, landscaping, a plaza and a hillclimb with a pergola. That project, estimated at $8.5 million, was part of the Windjammer Plan. The costly and controversial plan has nearly disappeared from the city’s lexicon.

Unlike the pie-in-the-sky Windjammer Plan, today’s project has a more modest maximum budget of $4.5 million and aims to fix the basics, Pabarcus said.

“The current condition of SE Pioneer Way infrastructure makes the area unattractive and contributes to congestion and pedestrian safety issues,” according to city documents. In short, this bare-bones project aims to decrease congestion and rid the street of massive puddles caused by inadequate drainage.

“We need to get the basics fixed,” Pabarcus said, adding that the main objective is to update the street, storm drain and sewer between Midway Boulevard and City Beach Street.

“There won’t be giant puddles in the street,” he said. “It’ll up the attractiveness, even if that’s all we do.”

The project is now in phase one, which includes surveys of the business and street levels, traffic patterns, storm water drainage and sewer system.

This first phase also includes a study to determine if Pioneer Way should remain a two-way street with parallel parking, change to a two-way street with angled parking or become a one-way street with parallel parking. It’s not the first time this study was done. A past study called for a road that serpentined, with angle-in parking on alternating sides.

Surveyors from Perteet of Everett spent much of last week in the downtown area, and will likely continue their work through the end of this week, Pabarcus said.

The City Council allocated $316,747 for phase one earlier this month. Before moving forward to phase two, city staff “will choose the alternative that best meets the goals of the city while maintaining a reasonable budget,” according to city documents. Money for the project will come from the arterial streets fund from the 2009-2010 budget in the amount of $3.5 million in real estate excise taxes in addition to a $1 million grant.

A city blog on the project will be online shortly for community input, Pabarcus said, adding that interested Oak Harborites will have a chance to see a more developed set of plans in September.

Pioneer Way’s last upgrade took place in 2008 when the water main was replaced because of rising concern of pipe failure. The road closure caused frustration among downtown businesses said Diane Sullivan, owner of Wind and Tide Bookshop.

Sullivan said the road closure decreased the amount of foot traffic to her store and she’s afraid more upgrades will do the same. Now is not the time to do a project like this, she said, referring to the struggling downtown economy.

Councilman Jim Palmer also voiced concern at a recent city council meeting over continued downtown studies.

“Do we really have to approach this again?” Palmer, a former downtown business owner, said in reference to the past traffic study.

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