Tuesday, September 18, 2018

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City ponders State Street work

Views sought from varied groups on major thoroughfare redesign in 2019

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    Traffic flows through the intersection of State Street and Lexington Boulevard at the top of State Street hill on Friday afternoon. State Street will be due for a rebuild next year, and city officials are beginning to talk about what that redesign will look like. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com

    Staff photo by Dan Reiland
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A major thoroughfare to downtown Eau Claire is getting the city’s attention in a 2019 road project that could change how traffic flows through that area.

In what is expected to be the city’s biggest street project next year, State Street will be rebuilt and could be redesigned for improved safety, neighborhood connections and better traffic flow.

No details have yet been established on what that design will look like.

“I think this is going to be a well-thought-out initiative to try to get everyone that’s a part of it involved,” said city Councilman Terry Weld. “We want to make sure we do it right.”

Plans are to reconstruct State Street from Garfield Avenue in the 3rd Ward, up the hill and south to just past the Hamilton Avenue intersection, where the city limits end and the town of Washington begins. 

“Anytime you can improve a gateway and make it easier to pass for people in cars and bikes and walking, it helps create more connected neighborhoods,” said city engineer Dave Solberg.

Numerous options will be considered, from narrowing the street lanes to building a roundabout at the top of the hill where State Street intersects with Lexington Boulevard.

The city is beginning the planning process by connecting with the surrounding neighborhood associations and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committees at the city and at UW-Eau Claire for feedback on what design would work best. 

Kevin Rosenberg, chairman of the Third Ward Neighborhood Association, said the organization’s members haven’t yet talked about narrowing street lanes, though they did broach putting a roundabout at the top of the hill.

“Although we haven’t voted on a roundabout, we have discussed and are very open to it, especially if it helps with flows and increases safety,” he said.

The street needs pavement and utility replacement, Solberg said, noting there’s also a hope the design will better serve as a bicycle and pedestrian connection from the south side to downtown.

“We know we have to do a street project there,” Solberg said. “Now is the time to look at it and work with the neighborhoods.”

The project also could address congestion problems farther south where State Street meets MacArthur Avenue and then where it intersects with Hamilton Avenue at a four-way stop.

Putting roundaboutsin those locations will be run past the Putnam Heights Neighborhood Association in upcoming meetings, Solberg said.

State Street’s last road project was in the mid-2000s, Solberg said, when it was treated with an overlay. 

Although a budget request has been submitted for all street projects pegged for next year, there’s no specific dollar amount on what might be allocated for this project. Solberg said the dollar amount would be driven heavily by whether roundabouts are constructed. 

According to 2014 data from the state Department of Transportation, 10,600 vehicles travel down the State Street hill each day. About 11,215 employees work downtown, which is about 21 percent of all workers in the city, said Mike Schatz, economic development director for the city.

“It’s certainly one of the ways that people get to downtown from the south,” Schatz said. 

Hamilton Avenue sees about 7,300 vehicles daily, the data show. 

State Street is a route that connects the city’s south side to downtown and leads to neighborhoods as well as local streets that feed intothe UW-Eau Claire campus, serving as an important access route for students, faculty, staff and visitors.

Reconstruction of State Street will come a year after Harding Avenue hill on the east side of the Third Ward gets a face lift. 

The City Council recently approved a plan for that street that calls for lanes being narrowed to 10 feet and flashing lights being installed near Jefferson Street to help vehicles see pedestrian and bike traffic. 

Construction of that project will start this summer.

Contact: 715-833-9206, elizabeth.dohms@ecpc.com, @EDohms_LT on Twitter

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