Safe Routes project schedule temporarily delayed

A solar-powered stop sign in front of Harrison Elementary School lights up to warn drivers of pedestrians.

Construction plans on streets leading to Cottage Grove schools as part of the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program are taking a slight detour.

“Between the surveying and design changes, it’s thrown the project off,” said Public Works and Development Director Faye Stewart. “The project was actually scheduled in the application to be done in February. It looks like the project’s going to be about six months longer to complete provided we can get it out to bid toward the middle to end of September.”

SRTS is a nationwide effort to assist communities in identifying and reducing barriers and hazards to children walking or bicycling to and from school through infrastructure improvements and safety education.

At an estimated cost of almost $1.7 million, the project will address key safety concerns on five routes to Cottage Grove schools. For most of these routes, safe sidewalks are an issue.

A $1,272,143 grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) toward the SRTS program was approved by a City Council vote Jan. 11.

In the SRTS grant agreement, the five identified routes are: East Harrison Avenue from South River Road to South 3rd Street; South 4th Street from Central Pacific Railroad to Grant Avenue; Grant Avenue from South 4th Street to South 6th Street; Fillmore Avenue from South 4th Street to South 6th Street; and Taylor Avenue from South 4th Street to South 8th Street.

The SRTS grant came at a fortuitous time for the city. After lacking dedicated funding in Oregon for many years, the SRTS program was revitalized in 2017 with the passage of the state’s landmark transportation funding package.

Among 112 applications for the SRTS grant, 24 were selected for funding. ODOT’S primary focus was elementary schools, then middle schools and finally high schools. Because Cottage Grove had already assessed and made plans to improve the area between its elementary and middle schools, the city was an obvious contender.

The project will not only include enhancing street safety for cyclists and pedestrians, but also replacing aged water, sewer and storm pipes, mainly under a stretch of Fourth Street from about the railroad to Grant Street.

The grant, however, does not apply to such work.

“Anything that improves the access and commute for kids going to school, either bikes or pedestrian-wise,” Stewart said. “It will not pay for paving or any of the piping work or for the water, sewer and storm upgrades.”

Now looking at a new timeline, part of the city’s strategy is to solicit bids at a time when contractors are not in peak construction.

“It’s not by design and desire that the project has taken longer to get ready to bid,” said Stewart, “but it might be to the advantage of the city that we might have some folks looking for winter work and early spring work.”

Ultimately, this could end up saving on the cost to landowners.

A municipal ordinance in place since 1999 holds Cottage Grove landowners responsible for improving adjacent streets and sidewalks that have fallen into disrepair “and to fairly apportion the cost of such improvements to the abutting properties.”

Before the SRTS program’s revitalization, plans had been in motion to execute this ordinance on the targeted roads, meaning adjacent landowners would have had to pay for all sidewalk improvements. When the grant entered their radar, city officials jumped on the opportunity.

“Because of the success of getting this grant from the State of Oregon for this project, it drastically reduces the amount that each adjoining property owner is going to have to pay,” Stewart said. “I really can’t give numbers, but there’s an overall general hope that … it’ll be reduced to virtually nothing, that the grant will cover the majority of it.”

These number won’t become apparent, however, until after the project goes out to bid. If proposals come back higher than current estimates, homeowners can expect some costs for the project.

“And if it comes in less, then that would be great,” said Stewart. “There would be no cost.”

The city is working on giving contractors a broad window in which to choose construction times, increasing the chances of more proposals at less costly estimates.

Weather permitting, sidewalk work along streets such as Fillmore and Grant that don’t require pipe work could conceivably begin as early as this winter, though the details will have to be negotiated in consideration of traffic flow and access.

“We would try to have work times that don’t conflict with the release times of school or the beginning of school,” Stewart said. “We’re going to have to work with the school district and the contractor to minimize impact.”

According to the grant agreement, the project must be completed within three years, giving the project a deadline of Jan. 2022.

“I’m really optimistic it’s going to be done by September 2020,” said Stewart, “so it should be a year and half before the deadline.”

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