Potentially adding multiple roundabouts along a stretch of State Street have been the most contentious pieces of Eau Claire’s slate of 2019 road projects, but there are other parts of the city that will see orange cones when the weather warms.
The City Council got its first look Tuesday evening at the complete slates of alleyway, road and recreational trail projects, which will be the subjects of upcoming public hearings and votes in the coming weeks.
Among them are pieces of a couple of major roads on Eau Claire’s north side that connect neighborhoods and businesses to North Hastings Way that will be under construction this summer.
The city will replace parts of Eddy Lane and Melby Street close to the Union Pacific railroad tracks while the railroad makes safety improvements to crossings there this summer.
“As long as the railroad is in there, we figure we should be in there with Eddy and Melby,” city engineer David Solberg said.
He explained that if the city waited another year for the road work, there would be an additional cost to hire a railroad flagging safety crew to be on scene during the road construction.
Buried utility lines on those roads also date back to the 1940s and are due for replacement, Solberg said.
Because both Eddy Lane and Melby Street are major links to North Hastings Way, Solberg said one of them would remain open while the other is under construction. And during those projects, nearby Starr Avenue will be signed as a detour route.
The City Council will hold public hearings at upcoming meetings to get feedback on Eau Claire’s 2019 road projects before voting to approve them. Alleyway improvement projects are first up, scheduled for Jan. 21 public hearings followed by Jan. 22 votes. Road project hearings and votes will follow during February and March council meetings. For a map of 2019’s projects, go online to tinyurl.com/yd9ctdky.
The project that has gotten the most attention already is the city’s plans for revamping a nearly one-mile stretch of State Street, a major connection from the city’s south side to the UW-Eau Claire campus and downtown.
“This is going to be the most contentious,” Solberg said.
The city has already been holding open houses and meetings — including an appearance tonight at the 3rd Ward Neighborhood Association meeting — to gauge reception to early designs for revamping nearly a mile of the thoroughfare.
One of the changes that’s gotten the best reception is replacing the Lexington Boulevard intersection at the top of the State Street hill, which Solberg described as “objectively horrible,” with a roundabout. The latest design for that roundabout would eat into what is currently a small park behind Eau Claire’s Fire Station No. 5, 2500 Patton St., but not require land from any nearby homeowners.
“Everyone really sees that (intersection) as problematic,” Councilwoman Kate Beaton said, noting that there are often backups there when there’s heavy traffic.
But she also noted that constituents have expressed issues with other parts of the proposed plans and wanted to know the city’s rationale for proposing them.
Roundabouts also have been pitched for the Hamilton and MacArthur avenue intersections, Solberg said, to reduce wait times observed with the stop signs currently there.
Computer modeling shows that three roundabouts on State Street would take two seconds less to go through than it currently takes to go from Hamilton Avenue to Lexington Boulevard, Solberg said. Much of that is due to waiting at the four-way stop on Hamilton Avenue, he said, which would be reduced for drivers going in every direction if that’s changed to a roundabout.
But the part of the project that has been vexing city engineers most has been how to make State Street hill leading past the UW-Eau Claire campus and the 3rd Ward neighborhood safer without creating congestion.
“The public does not want a bottleneck on State Street,” Solberg said.
And key to those plans is finding a way to make the most crash-prone part of State Street — the Roosevelt Avenue intersection.
The city has drawn up designs for a roundabout there, but is still examining different methods to improve that intersection.
Another road project that may be done is several blocks of Forest Street north of East Madison Street in the downtown area.
Though considered a local street, the roadway sees a large amount of heavy vehicles including plow trucks leaving the city’s shops and semitrailer trucks going to and from the Cascades Tissue factory.
While that road work is happening, those trucks are expected to use a detour through residential streets in the North Barstow area.
However, the city is timing its Forest Street project to construction for a veterans tribute in adjacent public property. If the group fundraising for the tribute doesn’t meet its goal this year, Solberg said the road project would also be delayed to 2020.