“Crowded, busy, and congested.”
“Not people friendly.”
“Just a sad sight.”
About 170 people responded to a recent city survey on Route 303 – the Warren Ave./Wheaton Way corridor that bisects the city of Bremerton and runs north toward Silverdale – and many did not mince words in describing a noisy, uninviting and sometimes dangerous thoroughfare.
With the help of $450,000 in state funds, Bremerton is planning a study of the arterial. A consultant will seek to identify options to “improve livability, attract investment, and increase economic vitality” through the north-south highway that begins near downtown Bremerton, runs past Olympic College and crosses into East Bremerton via the Warren Avenue Bridge.
Weighing heavily in the responses to the city’s request for public input were descriptions of a somewhat dingy, miles-long urban/suburban strip beset by empty storefronts, worn down commercial signage and traffic congestion described inconvenient and dangerous for motorists and pedestrians alike.
“We hate to drive friends who come to visit us down it,” admitted one respondent whose name was redacted by city officials for privacy reasons.
“It is sketchy and unpleasant at any hour,” another person wrote.
It “has potential,” another said, “but needs help.”
The purpose of the survey was to gather public input before the city identifies a third-party consultant to conduct the study, which will take about 18 months, city officials said. The questionnaire was open throughout August but results were released to the Kitsap News Group on Thursday.
City officials will choose the consultant around late January, project manager Katie Ketterer said.
Ketterer emphasized that while she couldn’t predict what suggestions the company would make – and did not want to bias the outcome – she stressed that the city is committed to making discernible changes in response to the report.
“While some studies don’t offer a lot of solutions and just get shelved (like that 2002 study) we expect this study to yield results,” she wrote via email.
Ketterer was referencing a 16-year-old Transportation Corridor Study – a collaboration of federal, state, and local agencies – that identified the need to “improve safety, accessibility, mobility” and the “movement of goods” through the Rte. 303 corridor but yielded few measurable changes.
There is no estimate yet for the ultimate cost of any redesign project, a plan for which would be developed over the next two years.
Traffic congestion and safety is at the center of the city’s priorities for the study, and that was a major concern for survey respondents.
Many complained of uncoordinated stoplights, a lack of turning lanes, difficulty accessing businesses from the road and slow-moving traffic particularly during rush hour. They also cited dangerous conditions for cyclists and pedestrians, especially on Wheaton Way.
“Frustrated drivers often drive with ‘road rage’ trying to make it through lights, clear intersections,” one person wrote.
“It is dirty, noisy, old, does not meet ADA standards and needs traffic calming,” another said.
Others complained of a lack of trees and other vegetation, non-existent communal spaces and few businesses where people gather, like coffee shops.
“I used to work on Wheaton Way, and the lack of retail and walkable design really lowered the quality of my work environment,” one person wrote.
Some respondents warned against unintended consequences of redevelopment.
“I see this corridor as a place where new businesses could do well,” wrote Annika Turner, who gave the city permission to publish her name. “But I do not want to see new policies that increase gentrification or price out current residents.”
The 28-year-old who grew up in East Bremerton said she would strongly support changes to make the corridor more bicycle-friendly.
“If there are drastic changes to the road that would allow for a bike lane, that would be great,” she wrote. “But not worth extravagant costs if not part of a larger project.”
Ketterer said during an interview with the Kitsap News Group in August that the city would be balancing the goals of making the corridor more livable and inviting, while maintaining its function as a major vehicle thoroughfare.
“We’re very focused on making the corridor a place that has some identity and community link to it rather than just being a car corridor,” she said. “But at the same time we want to make sure we’re moving those commuters.”
“We need to get them where they need to go in a reasonable amount of time,” she said.
Ketterer said the city will hold a public meeting when the new consultant is chosen.
The study will begin in February or March, she said.