Wednesday, April 4, 2012/lk
For a man who will have to ride herd on a months-long traffic jam in the making, Bob Francis is notably optimistic.
Look for a major redevelopment project on State Street starting in late summer, involving new water and sewer lines, sidewalks and other changes as the newest Urban Renewal project hits downtown.
Francis, who is city manager, said the projects will affect State Street between First and Sixth and between Ninth and 13th streets.
He said the city plans to time the State Street projects so most of the construction is done during down time of tourism season.
"You can expect some delays; starting by late summer, but we hope we can get one of two phases done by time we have to button it up in January," Francis said.
In 2009, Urban Renewal on Oak from Third to Fifth streets disrupted traffic and created headaches for neighboring businesses, but resulted in upgraded streets, sidewalks and amenities.
Francis announced the project at last week's Impact Meeting, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce, an update on local governement projects.
"It's an exciting time to be in Hood River, and especially an exciting time for me as city manager to be involved in all of this," said Francis, who used the meeting as a chance to update about 50 local citizens on the upcoming realignment of the Country Club/Cascade intersection, the stalled signalization at Rand-Cascade signalization and other projects.
Port Executive Director Michael McElwee also communicated an optimistic tone.
"Right now there is a fairly remarkable center of gravity occurring in Hood River," McElwee said, describing the total $10 million in private investment among three projects at the waterfront, primarily in new buildings for Hood Tech and Turtle Island foods.
McElwee also described as "transformational" the Naito Company's proposed hotel and cable park project at Nichols Boat Basin.
"We have the opportunity to not only invest and see developmentments occur that are before us right now, but also we have the opportunity to look ahead and craft the future that we want to see," McElwee said.
Francis also announced that the city and county have entered into "very preliminary discussions about contracting with law enforcement services" - that is, the possible consolidation of police and sheriff operations.
"We're looking at crunching some numbers now, and hopefully if they work and we think it's a good thing to do, we can move forward," Francis said.
"I think what it hinges on, though, is what happens in this next election," Francis said. "We have three people running for sheriff, and we would like to know what their opinion is on this whole thing and I'm sure the voters would, too, on where they would like to go. The sheriff is a key person and without their support this probably will not happen."
The canddiates are Matt English, Neil Holste and Gerry Tiffany. At last week's Hood River Rotary meeting, none of the three expressed either support or opposition to the idea of consolidating services.
Francis said the city is about to sign an agreement with Oregon Department of Transportation to get the Country Club project going; the state will pay the city $3 million to realign Country Club.
Essentially, the city will upgrade Mt. Adams Street, a quarter-mile east of Country Club, and traffic will be routed south and then west behind Mid Columbia Marine and the Red Carpet Inn, bypassing the curving intersection that now exists next to exit 62.
"That will be a very exciting project for the city, and the development on the west part of town," Francis said.
"As you look at it, I think you will see two things start to happen. As Country Club is built, you will probably see development happen along Country Club so as soon as Country Club opens there will already be development out there, so again that's good for Hood River economy."
Francis said he has fielded numerous concerns over the path of the realignment.
"We get a lot of questions such as 'Why don't you put in a traffic circle at Country Club, or a signal?'" Francis said. "Believe me, we went through the whole gamut of things with ODOT to try to get a roundabout, or a slip lane or traffic signal at that location, and ODOT is holding firm that the only way the intersection can work is to realign it and go behind Mid-Columbia Marine and go a quarter mile to connect with Country Club."
Francis said that the Rand signal project "is on hold, and honestly the reason it's on hold is that Walmart case is up at Land Use Board of Appeals." (The group Hood River Citizens for a Local Economy has appealed the City Council's decision to allow Walmart to expand its West Cascade store by 30,000 square feet.)
Francis noted that Walmart's proportional share of the Rand-Cascade light is $450,000.
"Originally, the city wanted to put in a signal at the existing configuration, with a cost of about $350,000, but the Rand and Cascade don't quite meet and ODOT said we have to realign Rand Road, making it a $900,000 project.
"We tried to work with ODOT and ODOT was very firm that because of safety concerns the $900,000 project has to go forward."
The city will be able to proceed with the project "when we see the final Walmart decision."
Francis added, "I want to be very clear though, that this is a case up at LUBA but there's been a couple things said about City Coucil allowing Walmart (expansion) because of the $450,000. That is not true."
On Urban Renewal, Francis said the two looming State Street projects stretch from State and First to a little beyond the County Building at Sixth, and will involve new sewer and water lines, and new sidewalks and road surface. The city is also negotiating with Pacific Power to put utilities underground.
The timeline also includes replacement of Ninth to 13th; mainly because some of the residences water passes through what Francis called "old lead goosenecks" that have to be removed by state law.