Marine Drive work delayed until after July 4

Published on Wed, Mar 28, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The improvements to Marine Drive between the Peace Portal Drive roundabout and Milhollin Drive will eventually widen the road to 28 feet and add 6-foot-wide sidewalks on each side of train crossing. Rendering courtesy of Blaine Community Development  Services.

Disagreements over bike accessibility have delayed the completion of Marine Drive improvements until after July 4, at the earliest.

Blaine planning commissioners have asked for further discussion on the project after they expressed concerns over the usability of the proposed 6-foot sidewalks on each side of Marine Drive near the railroad tracks. Blaine Public Works director Ravyn Whitewolf said the original plan was for the improvements to be done by July 4, in time for Blaine’s Fourth of July celebrations.

“[But] that is not going to come to pass,” Whitewolf said.

The improvement project will widen Marine Drive to 28 feet and add 6-foot sidewalks on both sides of the road from the Peace Portal Drive roundabout to just west of the railroad tracks. The work will connect the sidewalks on the north and south side of Marine Drive left uncompleted after past road work in the area.

“We’re simply closing the missing link in the sidewalk system,” Blaine assistant public works director Bill Bullock said.

Blaine Public Works has acquired a $468,000 state transportation grant for the project that requires $52,000 in matching funds from the local municipality. The Port of Bellingham is chipping in $26,000 – half the required match – so the city of Blaine will be on the hook for $26,000.

The entire project will cost $520,000. Public works staff had planned to open bids for the project on April 12 and expected to start by May.

Bullock made the case for the project at the March 22 Blaine Planning Commission meeting, since planning commissioners will have a final say on a shoreline permit necessary for the project. The proposed improvements met criticism at the meeting from Blaine residents who were concerned the 6-foot sidewalks would limit access to bicyclists.

The sidewalks on the northwest side of the tracks would take the place of an existing 9-foot path designed for pedestrians and bicyclists, Blaine resident Richard Sturgill said. Sturgill was involved in securing a grant that paid for this path in 1994, and he said he thought the narrower sidewalks the city is proposing will be a hindrance to bicyclists and pedestrians.

“I think it’s really important to have that sort of multimodal system off the highway,” Sturgill said.

Sturgill suggested the engineers on the project “think outside the box” and come up with a way to equally include pedestrians, bicyclists and cars in the project.

Blaine planning commissioner Van Tabb said the project as proposed did not address tourist needs, especially those who would ride bicycles through the crossing and into Marine Park. He said he does not want to see the current path, which appears to support bicycles, to be split apart.

“I’m really opposed to the lack of bike lanes,” Tabb said. “I think we’re neglecting the public here.”

Planning commissioners asked if Bullock had considered winding a 10-foot multimodal path around the north end of the railroad crossings, which Bullock said he had. Bullock explained such a move would require separate pedestrian at-grade crossings or moving the existing crossing gates, both of which proved too costly.

“Moving the [crossing gates] and making them wider would probably cost more than the entire project,” Bullock said. “The [proposed] solution is what can fit.”

Such a path would have also impeded Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) staff’s access to a maintenance road running parallel to the tracks, Bullock explained. In a later interview, Bullock said the design of the project had to be acceptable to BNSF officials since it crosses their property.

“BNSF is an element not tied to the project, and there’s no guarantee they would approve it,” Bullock said. “There’s only so much farther you can push that elephant.”

With the planning commissioners’ concerns aired, Bullock said he will be returning to a April 12 commission work session to explain how he settled on the proposed design for the improvements. He said he did not expect the planning commissioners to have as many issues with the project as they had.

“I expected to go there and answer a few questions, not describe why I arrived at the decision I did,” Bullock said. “If I had known, I would have come with a presentation that showed the steps we went through.”

The work session is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. on April 12 in the Blaine City Council chambers. The regular Blaine Planning Commission will follow at 7 p.m.