Oak Harbor city officials have acknowledged for well over a decade that Northeast Seventh Avenue needs major safety improvements.
The busy, worn-down road is popular with adult and child pedestrians from nearby apartments, but it lacks sidewalks, bicycle lanes and street lighting. There are open stormwater ditches in some areas.
It appears that reconstruction is finally going to happen, although the work likely won’t be completed for more than two years.
Oak Harbor City Council members are expected to get a first glimpse at design work sometime this summer. They received a project update at a workshop meeting on Tuesday in which City Engineer Alex Warner said consultants were almost done with 30 percent of the design work.
Work will include reconstructing the road, adding sidewalks and bicycle lanes or a shared-use path, installing street lighting and enclosing storm drains.
An overhaul of Northeast Seventh Avenue was a top priority in the city’s six-year transportation plan as far back as 2009, if not before. Residents named the street its No. 1 priority in the 2016 Oak Harbor Transportation Plan.
But the project never happened.
Ten years ago, the city had a grant to do the project, but Native American remains were unearthed during a Pioneer Way project after the city ignored warnings from the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. The high costs of dealing with the issue left the city without the matching funds for the grant, and plans for the road were cancelled.
Now, the city has $970,800 available for the project from two grants obtained in 2016 and 2018 through the Island Regional Transportation Planning Organization. City council members authorized preliminary engineering efforts in 2019, but a request for qualifications from consultants was not published until August 2020.
The city picked TranTech Engineering in January 2021 for preliminary engineering work. The consultant began collecting data for the project this February. Design work is almost at 30 percent completed. Warner told council members he expects them to receive another update this summer when design work reaches that mark.
Public Information Officer Sabrina Combs said design work is expected to be completed by early 2022 and construction could start the following year.
Combs said the city expects construction costs to total $3.4 million on top of $498,035 for design and $624,278 for right-of-way acquisition. The design phase of construction has received a federal grant that will fund 86.5 percent of the costs, she said.
The city will seek funding as the work progresses.
Combs said the project has taken this long because of its complexity. Projects like repaving are smaller and less expensive, so they can be paid for more easily with local funding. The last time the city did a similar project was the reconstruction of North Oak Harbor Street from Whidbey Avenue to Northwest Crosby Avenue in 2010, she explained.
There was some confusion about the project’s funding following Mayor Pro Tem Beth Munns’s comments during the May 18 city council meeting. Munns said that she had heard the project had lost funding because design work was not finished. Susan Driver, transportation planner for Island Regional Transportation Planning Organization, said that the project has not lost its funding from a surface transportation block grant nor is it at risk for losing it.
The Island Regional Transportation Planning Organization, however, is at risk of losing a different kind of funding that could go to projects county-wide. The county was awarded $105,000 for highway improvements, Driver said, and the group has not been able to identify any projects eligible for the funding.
The group is looking for projects before the funding expires in September.