April 12, 2012 | Vol. 42, No. 15

Downtown paving to start soon

The town’s busiest intersections are about to get busier.

Main Street from Front Street to Allen Road will be paved this summer, as will Second Avenue between Main and Union streets.

Work will include portions of curbs, gutters and sidewalks and some culvert work, as well as paving of a section of Allen Road between Main Street and Old Haines Highway, said Al Clough, southeast director for the state Department of Transportation.

The project is estimated at $2.7 million, most of it from federal highway funds. Southeast Roadbuilders of Haines will do the job. A project schedule shows work alongside Second Avenue starting April 23, with final paving set for late July.

“It’s been years since there’s been a downtown project in Haines. It hasn’t been touched in over 20 years,” Clough said. “It’s been a long time.”

The project will include intermittent detouring in the town’s commercial district. “Everybody’s obviously sensitive that this is the business season for downtown, but unfortunately, it’s also the construction season,” Clough said.

Southeast Roadbuilders president Roger Schnabel said this week the job’s theme is safety and not disrupting stores and vendors more than necessary. Replacing curbs and gutters in front of stores will be a sensitive issue due to the disruption to customers, he said.

“We will do the best we can even if it involves a temporary bridge or boardwalk over the replacement area, in front of a store. The big problem is cure time… Concrete needs time to cure, and this is our concern. Folks will want to use the walkway and we need several off-limit days to get it to take hold,” he said.

Noise from grinding existing asphalt for re-use will be another issue, Schnabel said. Six passes by the grinder will be necessary for the street’s 36-foot width and ear plugs will be available to office workers in the construction zone.

Schnabel said he’d have a crew of up to eight working, not including subcontractors. Jobs done by locals will include surveyors, laborers, operators, truck drivers, pavers and traffic control and storm water pollution managers.

The project will maintain existing road widths and comply with federal highway standards in keeping with funding requirements, DOT’s Clough said.

Recent discussions of Main Street revitalization include proposals for narrowing Main Street, widening sidewalks, and adding vegetated “bulbs” and awnings to protect pedestrians from weather, but those will not be incorporated in the project.

“If we’re dealing with federal highway standards, we don’t have a huge amount of flexibility. It’s a fairly succinct set of standards we have to deal with,” Clough said. If the work were being done solely with state funds, the agency would have “a lot more latitude,” he said.

In April 2010, the Haines Borough’s $40,000 downtown revitalization plan identified working with DOT on future Main Street improvements as one of eight immediate steps to be taken.

Borough planning commissioners in recent years have broached the idea of a borough takeover of some or all of Main Street. Such a change would give the borough latitude to create its own standards, but critics say it also would be costly. Snow removal on Main requires hauling snow to other places in the borough.

Clough said the municipality has turned down recent overtures to hand off Main Street. “We tried to give the road to the city but they didn’t like that idea… If I was the city manager, I would have said the same thing.”

Clough said he didn’t have figures on maintenance costs for Main. Sitka and Juneau have taken over sections of streets in exchange for local control, including Franklin Street in Juneau, he said. “They turned (Franklin) into a pedestrian corridor, which makes perfect sense.”

But Clough said Haines isn’t alone in having its commercial district a state highway. “Many of our towns have state highways going through them, which is well and good, but depending on what you want done, that can be problematic.”

DOT officials this week said another major paving and sidewalk project – including Old Haines Highway, Front Street and Beach Road – awaits completion of negotiations with landowners. The state must buy private property to go ahead with plans.

Depending on negotiations, construction could start on that work as early as June. If negotiations fail, the project may be redesigned and delayed.