Roundabouts, bike lanes and wider sidewalks are part of early designs for Eau Claire’s biggest road project planned for 2019.
A nearly mile-long stretch of State Street, which passes by UW-Eau Claire and is a popular route to downtown, will get about $2 million in work next year to replace old utilities, repave the deteriorating road and boost safety along the arterial city road.
“We’ve received a lot of comments about improving pedestrian safety and the pedestrian experience along there,” city engineer David Solberg said.
After gatherings with residents of the 3rd Ward and Putnam Heights neighborhoods and the university, the city has made a draft design for the road project that will be presented in a trio of meetings to get more feedback before seeking approval from the City Council.
“It’s by far not a final draft,” Solberg said.
Denizens of Putnam Heights will be the first to see those plans at a 5 p.m. Thursday meeting at St. Mark Lutheran Church, 3307 State St. The 3rd Ward and university will get their look at the designs and chance to comment on them next week.
Three roundabouts and the potential for a fourth are included in the plans for the busier intersections along State Street. They would be at Hamilton and MacArthur avenues, Lexington Boulevard and an option for one at Roosevelt Avenue, which is the most crash-prone intersection along the State Street project.
Traffic lanes on State Street’s hill would be reduced from four lanes to two to allow the addition of a bike lane and wider sidewalk.
“It can handle one lane of traffic in each direction,” Solberg said.
While that hill gets a significant amount of traffic, Solberg said, fewer lanes shouldn’t have a major impact on the flow of vehicles because there are no driveways that would make drivers stop. Turning lanes would be included at intersections to keep traffic on through lanes flowing.
Bicycle lanes would be added to State Street along most of the road project, except for areas where turn lanes would prohibit them, based on the draft designs. Seldom-used curbside parking on some neighborhood blocks of State Street may be eliminated to allow room for bike lanes.
If the draft plans get a good reception, they’d move toward City Council approval in late January. If groups seek changes to the designs, Solberg said, they’d be revised and could go to the council in February with other street projects.
At 5,120 feet long, the road project will start at the Garfield Avenue intersection in the 3rd Ward, go up the State Street hill and end at city limits just south of Hamilton Avenue in the Putnam Heights area.
State Street is one of the main arteries for commuter students and faculty going to UW-Eau Claire’s lower campus, where the majority of academic buildings are located.
“We’ve had conversations with the city, but the university’s not weighed in specifically on anything,” said Mike Rindo, the university’s assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations.
The university has relayed concerns around speeds of vehicles on the road and the multiple crosswalks across State Street used by students and faculty going to their cars or homes on roads near the campus.
“There are some issues around pedestrian safety,” Rindo said.
Jeremy Gragert, a city councilman who represents an aldermanic district that includes State Street, attended a “walking audit” of the corridor in mid-October and then a meeting of the Third Ward Neighborhood Association in November that addressed the project.
“I want to see as many people involved in the discussion as possible,” Gragert said, adding he wants a design the whole community can support.
He said people attending the meetings have kept an open mind to ideas that could help improve safety on the street.
“There’s definitely a big concern in the neighborhood and at the university among drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians that State Street is not an easy or safe road to cross,” said Gragert, an alum of UW-Eau Claire. “Everybody feels there are ways to improve the route.”
The addition of roundabouts and fewer lanes may slow down traffic, Gragert said, but will make it easier for pedestrians to cross the road and for bicyclists to travel through the area.
Putnam Heights Neighborhood Association President Justin Carter drives on State Street daily but knows which other neighborhood streets to use so he can avoid the busy Lexington Avenue intersection at the top of the hill.
That spot is the major concern for the neighborhood, he said in an email.
The neighborhood association hasn’t yet voiced an official stance on the project, but it has advertised the city’s forums and meetings so residents can attend and provide their own feedback, Carter said.
State Street’s condition — namely by Putnam Heights homes — has deteriorated below the average the city wants for its arterial streets, Solberg said, and utilities under the roadway are old and need replacement.
Construction would begin after the university’s spring semester ends and would carry through until November, Solberg said. State Street will be closed during a large part of the project, requiring those who need to get from the city’s south side to downtown to use an alternate route, such as the Harding Avenue hill that was repaved this summer.