Three road construction projects with big traffic impacts on the city’s center are almost complete.
The Lake Street bridge, closed to traffic on July 25, is expected to reopen to traffic later today or Wednesday after paving is complete — “barring something bizarre happening,” said David Solberg, city engineer.
In addition, projects on the Harding Avenue hill from Lee to Washington streets and on Washington Street from Harding Avenue to South Farwell Street are expected to be finished by Aug. 31, he said.
Both areas were closed to traffic in early July, resulting in motorists having to find other routes in and out of downtown. On average, 14,000 to 16,000 vehicles per day use the Harding Avenue hill, about the same number that flow through the Highway 93-Golf Road intersection, Solberg said.
“It’s one of our busier routes, but the work needed to be done,” Solberg said Monday, noting the utilities below Washington Street date back to the 1940s. In an earlier article, he also described the pavement at the bottom of the hill as “horrible.”
The projects include:
• Milling off the top 2 inches of pavement on the Harding Avenue hill and replacing it with 2 inches of asphalt.
• Making narrower traffic lanes. Instead of 11-foot lanes, the traffic lanes will measure 10½ feet once the project is complete, resulting in more space between motor vehicle traffic and pedestrians.
“We got a lot of feedback … that using the sidewalk wasn’t a very calm and friendly experience because pedestrians were right next to traffic,” Solberg said. “This will change that.”
The City Council, at its legislative session today, is expected to act on a proposal to change the speed limit on Harding Avenue, which could make crossing the road a bit safer for pedestrians.
The current posted speed limits go from 30 mph to 35 mph to 30 mph, Solberg said. If the council approves the proposal, the speed limit will decrease to 30 mph from East to Lee streets.
• Making curb and gutter repairs along the hill.
• Replacing aging sanitary and storm sewer and water utilities under Washington Street.
“So far, there have been very few hiccups on either Harding or Washington,” Solberg said.
That’s good news to Jim Fey, vice president of operations for Student Transit, which provides bus transportation to students in the Eau Claire and Altoona school districts.
The first day of school for the Eau Claire school district is Sept. 4, so if the Harding-Washington projects are completed on time, that would be great, Fey said.
“For us, we always try to find the path of least resistance,” he said, explaining that drivers often have to navigate around road construction.
“We tell our employees to be patient and to be prepared,” said Fey, noting construction officials try to keep the company informed about the status of projects that might impact bus travel.
The closure of the Lake Street bridge also has impacted traffic. The closure was necessary so workers could do utility work tied into an adjacent Graham Avenue project.
Additional work on Lake Street from South Farwell Street to the bridge, originally planned for this year, now is being pushed to 2019, Solberg said.
Because contractors are busy, it would have resulted in overtime and weekend work for crews to get the project completed by mid-October, Solberg said. That additional cost raised the bids to a level the city couldn’t afford.
Instead, city staff will change a few things and rebid the project, which includes decorative lighting and pavers, for next year.
“Once that work is completed, it will be a very nice entrance to downtown,” Solberg said.
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