Over the past few years, Washington Avenue has been improved and beautified, starting with the northside neighborhood in 2008, then continuing through the downtown business district and down the hospital district to Willow Street in 2015.

Now it’s time for the last stretch, from the Willow Street intersection to West Lake Drive near the Pavilion.

The estimated cost of the project is $4.16 million, with about $2.5 million coming from Becker County and $1.7 million from the city, according to the preliminary engineering report prepared by Apex Engineering Group and approved by the City Council Tuesday, Dec. 10.

Like the first two projects, this last phase will include streetscaping and beautification, including colored-stamped concrete sidewalks and intersections, bump-out nodes for pedestrians, ornate lighting, trees, benches, bike racks, trash receptacles, and other amenities.

The project area will include Washington Avenue, from Willow Street to West Lake Drive, the Willow Street intersection, the alley west of Washington Avenue, and a short section of Forest Street.

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This part of Washington Avenue is in rough shape and needs to be rebuilt, according to the engineering report. The report recommends it be narrowed to 44 feet from 47 feet, to create some boulevard space, and that it be built with concrete, not asphalt.

The 44-foot width includes 12-foot traffic lanes and 10-foot parking lanes.

Like the rest of downtown Washington Avenue, there will be 6-foot-wide sidewalks, with colored and stamped concrete used for the 3-foot area behind the curb.

Water and sewer infrastructure isn’t bad

For the most part, the sanitary sewer, watermain and storm sewer under Washington Avenue are in good shape, according to the Apex engineering report, with much of it replaced in 1997. But there are some older sanitary sewer lines that will be replaced, notably at the intersection with Forest and Langford Street, and in parts of the alley that runs parallel to Washington Avenue.

There is a small segment of old cast iron pipe water main on Forest Street from Washington to Lake avenues that will be replaced as well, with special assessments being levied to help pay for it.

There is also old storm sewer along the length of the alley that may need to be replaced. There are no special assessments levied for improvements in city alleys.

About $328,000 of the $4.16 million project will be assessed to property owners, according to the report. The only assessments on Washington Avenue will be $223,000 for streetscaping. Property owners on those short blocks of Willow and Forest streets adjoining Washington Avenue will have $104,000 in special assessments to share.

The Willow Street intersection on Washington Avenue will see new traffic lights and left turn lanes as part of the project. Engineers looked at replacing the traffic lights with a mini roundabout, but dropped the idea because of space limitations.  (Nathan Bowe / Tribune)
The Willow Street intersection on Washington Avenue will see new traffic lights and left turn lanes as part of the project. Engineers looked at replacing the traffic lights with a mini roundabout, but dropped the idea because of space limitations. (Nathan Bowe / Tribune)

A solution to street flooding?

Street flooding on Washington Avenue between North Shore Drive and Forest Street sometimes happens during thunderstorms, with water pooling in the street, park and baseball field. The problem hasn’t been as bad in recent years, thanks to upstream storm sewer improvements and new on-site stormwater treatment requirements for redevelopment areas, according to the preliminary engineering report.

But City Highway Engineer Jon Pratt said an easy and inexpensive fix will be to build some stormwater retention basins on city property along the street in City Park and near the Washington ballpark. They will hold the stormwater overflow and then drain back into the storm sewer as capacity becomes available.

Other aspects of the project include a revamped Willow Street intersection, with left turn lanes on Washington Avenue, and improved traffic lights that actually respond to waiting traffic during slow periods. Emergency vehicles will be able to trigger the lights to turn green, which isn’t possible now, and there will be enhanced pedestrian signals, with buttons that actually work.

Washington Avenue will be done first

Here’s the construction timeline: Bids are expected to be let in March. Work on Washington Avenue will be done first, except for the Willow Street intersection. The idea is to be done with the street improvements before the Water Carnival parade July 19.

Work on the alley will be done next, once Washington Avenue is open to traffic.

Then work will start on the Willow Street intersection, which will likely be finished last, because of the long delivery time needed for the traffic signal poles and controllers.

Pratt cautioned that the design has not yet been finalized. “There is always some tweaking and refinements that happen through the design process and through engagement with the public,” he said.

Finishing the redevelopment of Washington Avenue “is kind of a milestone project,” he added, and like many city projects in recent years it was driven by a business corridor development study done by RDG Planning and Design.

“The city made a pretty sizable investment in time and money on that study. I know from experience, being in this business, that a lot of the time those plans are just put on a shelf. But I think the city has done a really good job of making those plans come to life,” Pratt said.

A public hearing on the South Washington Avenue project is set for 5 p.m. Jan. 14 at city hall.