PORT ORCHARD — The traffic delays on Tremont Street are a sign of progress, if not convenience, as the City of Port Orchard moves forward in 2018 with its transportation agenda.
After years of delay, the Tremont Street Widening Project is well underway. It is progressing through the first phase of construction on the busy arterial, which when finished, will provide commuters a four-lane gateway leading into Port Orchard from State Route 16, Rob Putaansuu, the city’s mayor, said during an interview with the Independent on Jan. 8.
Putaansuu said the transportation project, which is being built with funding from the city, county, state and federal governments, is Port Orchard’s marquee project this year — and a symbol of the city’s move forward in becoming a more livable place for its citizens.
“I would guess we are 14 months or less from being done and having a ribbon cutting,” Putaansuu said.
The mayor said prime contractor Active Construction has begun working to install underground utilities “and will work their way up until they start on the surface roadway.”
Actual roadwork will start by April, he said.
The contractor has nearly completed the first major storm pond on the west end of the road, he added. In coming weeks, a second storm pond will be put in place at the eastern end of the project.
“I would suspect that as the weather gets nicer and the day gets longer, the contractor will start their 4/10 days,” Putaansuu said, referring to a four-day-a-week, 10-hours-a-day work schedule.
“It works well for them, but it’s actually their call about what steps are next.”
So far, Active Construction is on schedule and hasn’t had to deal with any delays because of weather, he added. The project also is on-budget.
The mayor said the contractor is “stubbing out” for anticipated future commercial development along the corridor. Existing power lines and lines for phones and fiber-optic communications, which now run overhead, will be placed underground.
“We don’t want power poles along the boulevard,” Putaansuu said. “The city is stepping up and converting those homes” on Tremont.
Moving that infrastructure from power poles to underground vaults has been one of the contractor’s biggest challenges, he said.
“We’re putting in all this infrastructure and there is only so much landscape” to complete the job.
“We’ve got to keep all of that stuff active. We’re putting in new stuff as well as adding power, fiber and phone all in the ground now as part of planning for the future.”
This week, the City Council awarded bids for undergrounding utilities for homes and businesses — existing and future — alongside the Tremont project footprint.
“Everything under that road is being upgraded because we don’t want to dig it up for utilities later,” Putaansuu said.
“I consider it bad government when you dig up a road for utilities, and then a year later, you do it again for another utility line.”
With the complex transportation project methodically progressing, is Putaansuu satisfied with the work being accomplished by Active Construction?
“Absolutely,” he said with a smile. “They are doing a great job.”
Putaansuu said that seeing construction begin last year was “very gratifying.”
He said, “Many said we couldn’t do it. It’s not just me. Everybody in city government worked their butts off on this project. We got federal money, transportation money from the state and through Sen. Jan Angel, and we finished it out with bond financing by the city.”
At the beginning stages of the project, the city accepted $3 million from the federal government to design the Tremont project. If Port Orchard hadn’t begun work in 2017, it would have had to reimburse the feds for the already-spent money. And that wasn’t an option, the mayor said.
“To have to pay that back without any benefit to the city would have been horrible.”
Bethel, Sedgwick corridors
Putaansuu said the city will begin looking at future transportation plans with hired consultants who will address the busy Bethel Avenue and Sedgwick Road traffic corridors. Those projects — that ultimately will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to finish — will require the city to take a long-range approach. And with Sedgwick, a state highway, it will take a combined effort with the state to ultimately improve that corridor.
“It’s not realistic to approach Bethel as a single project,” he said.
“It probably will involve four or five segments done separately. Which (segment) will be done first? Probably the Salmonberry-Bethel portion, but that will depend on our consultants. Costs will be part of the discussion” this year, he added.
Pocket parks projects
Putaansuu said the city is in the middle of securing state funding to construct two pocket parks along the waterfront.
“We laid some groundwork last year for some pocket parks,” he said. “One of those two parks is tied up in the capital budget in Olympia. In it, there’s some money to build that park.”
The mayor said the city closed a deal for property between the Marlee Apartments and the Comfort Inn motel, where a pocket park will eventually be situated. He expects design work will start and be completed by the end of next year. Construction is about two years out, he added.
“We closed on all our land (purchases), which took longer than we thought it would for the next section of the (Bay Street) pedestrian pathway. We just got into winter, so it didn’t make sense to begin work now along the shoreline.”
Another initiative, the McCormick Village Park project, also deserves marquee space as a major city accomplishment in 2017, the mayor said.
This spring, he said the city will award a contract for a million-dollar expansion of the park. In a City Council presentation on Jan. 9, city officials were shown specifics on the plan, which will help guide city officials to reprioritize work plans for the project.
Mixed-use pilot project
Another city initiative that Putaansuu has championed — a mixed-use pilot project — is one that the mayor hopes will generate some development, particularly in the downtown area. The city owns a parcel of land at 640 Bay St., which it hopes will serve as the initial foray into combined residential-commercial development by a group of local developers. He is aware of one interested group in the Bay Street property and expects developments will be announced soon.
“If we can get two or three projects out of that, it will be a success,” Putaansuu said. “It’s not realistic to think that everybody’s going to come to town with barrels of money.”
Next week: Mayor Putaansuu discusses new developments on Bay Street, plans for a fortified parks department and other 2018 initiatives.