Sunday, December 10, 2023

Council OKs Division Ave project's first phase

Staff Writer | April 20, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — The first phase of the Division Avenue corridor improvement project got the green light from the Sandpoint City Council on Wednesday.

In a unanimous 6-0 vote, the board approved the project's scope of work, and directed city staff to finalize construction documents. The project would then go to bid.

The city expects to award the bid in May, with construction set to start after June 12 when school is out for the year. It would be completed by Sept. 1 before school resumes.

The project's first phase includes improvements from the Superior Street area to approximately U.S. 2. It calls for a new, wider sidewalk, addition of a planter strip, and realignment of the curb to calm traffic using a lateral shift.

To gauge the impact of the two alternatives for the traffic-calming device, city officials, the Lake Pend Oreille School District and Sandpoint Police marked them out with traffic cones on Tuesday, Holly Ellis, city construction manager, said.

The first alternative called for 6-foot dedicated bike lanes and 12-foot driving lanes, but no center turn lane. The second kept the turn lane but eliminated dedicated bike lanes, instead creating 12.5-foot sharrows — a shared bicycle/vehicle lane.

Ellis said the first option was tested, and it quickly became apparent that the turn lane was essential to the functionality of Division Avenue. The exercise blocked off the turn lane, forcing northbound traffic to turn left from the travel lane.

It didn't take long after the cones were placed at 7 a.m. to block the turn lane for traffic to back up, Ellis said.

"It didn't work," she told the council. "Traffic backed up pretty close to the highway so we pulled the pilot and the cones and reimplemented the turn lane. That storage is pretty valuable for folks to make that left-hand turn."

On Division Avenue, the project calls for a narrowing of the road to the north while southbound travel lanes would be shifted to the west. On the east side of Division Avenue, a wider frontage would be created, which would include a new sidewalk, planter strip, curb and gutters, and driveway approaches.

A six-foot-wide sidewalk on the east side of Division would be built to create safer access for students to walk to school, as well as to improve pedestrian access to community destinations and neighborhoods, Sandpoint officials said.

The new planter strip on the east side of Division Avenue will provide greenspace in alignment with Sandpoint's Urban Forestry Master Plan as well as provide snow storage.

Identified in the city's Multimodal Transportation Master Plan, the project grew out of a 2020 road safety audit. Sandpoint officials said the project will create better pedestrian and bicycle access to schools, community destinations, and neighborhoods.

City officials estimate it will take 10-20 years to implement all of the planned improvements on Division Avenue. Funding for the first phase is through a state-funded Child Pedestrian Safety Grant. Funding for the rest of the project is still being determined.

The project is the first phase of a long-range effort to transform Division Avenue from the city's truck route to a more pedestrian-focused roadway.

The project adds 630 linear feet of sidewalk, a roughly 500-foot greenspace, and curb ramp improvements at the intersections. While trees are part of the project, City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton told the council that funding will be included in next year's budget. The city is seeking grant opportunities but she said it could also be included as part of the city's general fund.

The project grew out of the city's road safety audit and Multimodal Transportation Master Plan, both of which show a steady increase in traffic.

With the road home to everything from schools to senior living facilities, Division has become a major pedestrian hub. And, since the roadway is also the city's designated truck route, the number of conflicts — and safety concerns — have grown in recent years.

That includes semi-truck traffic on Division. Primarily, the MTMP calls for northern traffic to be routed onto Baldy and then onto the two highways instead of the vehicles utilizing the city's residential areas to snake their way through town.

The ultimate plan calls for a complete restructuring of the roadway to reflect its changing use to a pedestrian and bicycle corridor — and a shifting of truck traffic to Baldy Mountain Road.

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