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Washington Ave. project may grow

Next summer’s Washington Avenue project is coming with multiple options.

Tuesday morning, the Becker County Board and the Detroit Lakes City Council met jointly to discuss the project that was supposed to happen this summer until bids were rejected twice after coming in too high over estimates.

So after pushing the project back a year – with plans to rebid it this winter and hopefully get lower costs – the city decided to look into possibly tacking on another portion of Washington Avenue. What started as the two downtown blocks from Front Street to Frazee Street may expand to Willow Street.

Concrete v. asphalt

A major part of the discussion, and the project cost, will be whether or not to extend concrete to the southern portion of the project. It was even questioned whether asphalt should be used on the entire project to save time and money.

County Engineer Jim Olson said the larger project will be “more attractive to more contractors to bid on it.”

While offering up a larger project to keep costs down on the original downtown project, it will increase the entire project with the added length – about double the cost, City Engineer Jon Pratt said.

“I think it’s worth looking at, expanding the project,” Alderman Jamie Marks Erickson said.

Commissioner Barry Nelson said that the county could use SMART money for their portion. SMART funds are the sales tax the county started collecting this year that is dedicated to transportation projects.

“The money is there, most likely, for the county,” he said, adding that the second portion of Washington Avenue wasn’t on the county’s five-year plan but neither are many of the SMART projects.

The commissioners agreed that the county may pay a portion of the concrete work along the southern portion but it won’t be a large portion, since it’s a cosmetic item the city wants.

Commissioners and aldermen discussed having three options when it comes to concrete: Concrete could extend throughout the entire project; there could be concrete downtown and asphalt on the south side of Frazee Street; and asphalt could be used on the entire project.

Nelson said that using asphalt would speed up the process by about three weeks, getting construction out of the downtown quicker.

The city has always planned to use concrete in the downtown portion of the project to continue the theme from the north portion of Washington Avenue across the railroad tracks that was completed two years ago.

Mayor Matt Brenk said that the project should at least be bid with all options and a decision made after that.

Marks Erickson said the city’s vision, as far as she knew, was to continue concrete down Washington Avenue. Without doing that, “to me, it’s like siding half the house.”

Brenk said that according to the redevelopment plan the city adopted a few years ago, the plan is to continue concrete down Washington Avenue and connect it to West Lake Drive, tying everything together.

Project timing

Pratt suggested constructing the southern portion of Washington Avenue as soon in the spring as possible and then work north to the downtown. He said the construction would begin in July as planned in the past.

Norby’s Department Store owner Michael Norby said he always thought the downtown construction was going to happen right away in the spring because July and August are the busiest times for downtown businesses.

Pratt said that was fine as well, that it didn’t matter which portion of the project came first.

“At the end of the day, yes, we can construct it at any time of the construction season,” he said.

He added that if the larger project isn’t done, it’s not desirable for contractors to bid on a project that starts in July so the spring would work better.

If the construction were started downtown, he said as long as the weather cooperated, the construction crews could be out by Water Carnival in mid-July but not by July 4.

Street Faire at the Lake committee member and Washington Square Mall Manager Dawn Olson said the street faire could be moved for one year for construction, but the decision needs to be made by March so they could make vendors aware of the change.

West Lake Drive

Continuing down the street, the city and county have the upcoming West Lake Drive project as well. Improvements would include a bike-pedestrian path along the well-traveled street.

Alderman Bruce Imholte said that his concern is that if money was spent on doing the extra portion of Washington Avenue then West Lake Drive would be put on the back burner.

Safety is a big concern on the narrow street where many people walk, run, rollerblade and bike around the lake.

Commissioner Ben Grimsley said he agreed with Imholte and that West Lake Drive is more important right now and that he’d like to see the SMART tax money go to that instead of the southern portion of Washington Avenue.

Nelson said that the county was having difficulty with easements along West Lake Drive and next summer wasn’t feasible.

Pratt agreed.

He said that between easements, utilities and other hurdles, it will take a couple years to get the project ready for construction. Then it would take another couple years for the construction he said.

Nelson said that if the extra Washington Avenue portion was completed, there’s no way that wouldn’t affect the West Lake Drive portion. He said he wants to spread the SMART money throughout the county and not just spend it all in Detroit Lakes.

Imholte said that West Lake Drive is the most traveled county road in the county, and secondly, most of the SMART tax money is coming from Detroit Lakes since it’s the largest city in the county.

“It’s naive to think that Washington Avenue won’t push back West Lake Drive,” Commissioner Don Skarie said, adding that it’s an important project but the Washington Avenue one would be an extra $1 million.

“If we didn’t have SMART money, it would be totally different,” he said.

“We wouldn’t be looking at either (project),” Nelson said.

Both boards voted unanimously to move forward with the preliminary engineering report for doing both asphalt and concrete on both downtown and to Willow Street.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.