The Third Avenue improvements project is fully designed and ready to go to bid, but questions linger about the design’s safety and the Haines Borough Planning Commission’s lack of input.

The project, which has been in the works for four years, will improve the surface of the road and road base and add sidewalks, rolled curbs, a crosswalk and storm drains. It also will remove the retaining wall along the Haisler’s Hardware parking lot.

The assembly met last week to look at the completed design, when assembly member Debra Schnabel expressed her concern about the project’s sidewalk plans. A sidewalk will run the length of the east side of Third Avenue, but on the west side, sidewalk isn’t planned to connect the public library with the sidewalk that runs to the Haines School on Old Haines Highway.

Current design calls for a rolled curb and raised sidewalk from Main Street to the borough administration building parking lot, with a mid-block crosswalk in front of the administration building.

Lack of a sidewalk in front of Mountain Market, an area pedestrians frequently use, is a concern, Schnabel said.

Public facilities director Carlos Jimenez, however, said the planned crosswalk in front of the administration building solves that problem, as people can cross the street and use the sidewalk on the opposite side. “I just didn’t think a sidewalk would be important to have there because you’re inviting people to walk where people currently drive,” he said.

Schnabel said it doesn’t make sense to her to force pedestrians to cross in the middle of the street instead of providing a walkway. “Apparently this community thinks it is safer for pedestrians to cross Third Avenue at a crosswalk than it is to provide a walkway along the side of the road,” Schnabel said.

Jimenez said a raised sidewalk wouldn’t work in front of Mountain Market because of the grade of the parking lot, and it would demand specific openings for entering and exiting the lot.

Mike Borcik, operations manager of Mountain Market, said he didn’t want the new design to “create an obstacle course” for customers.

“Forcing customers to pull in and out of two access points and maneuver in the remaining space left between the island formed by a squared, curbed sidewalk would force our customers to jockey their vehicles in a relatively tight space,” Borcik said.

“Historically, our present situation works and works well, and there haven’t been problems with traffic or pedestrians,” Borcik added.

Jimenez said in addition to making the parking lot more cramped, a raised sidewalk also makes for more difficult snow plowing. “The reason we decided to go with the design of the rolled curb is to allow for snow plowing with less damage to the sidewalks. It’s hard to plow a raised curb area,” he said.

Planning Commission chair Rob Goldberg said in an interview last week that the commission never got a chance to look at the Third Avenue designs, and likely would have submitted the same sort of comments they have given to similar state projects.

Goldberg said he likely would have suggested a dedicated entrance and exit for Mountain Market, which is what happened at the Quick Shop parking lot on the Old Haines Highway when the state installed a sidewalk there.

Jimenez took responsibility for not bringing the designs to the planning commission, calling it “an oversight” on his part. “In the future, we’ll definitely try to be more proactive in getting the planning commission on board,” he said.

Mayor Stephanie Scott also said project designs in the future will be brought to assembly members sooner so they can have input during the process.

Jimenez said the project should go out to bid next week. Construction could start as early as May 1, he said.