PORT TOWNSEND — City Council members and the Port Townsend Public Works department want to find a way to reopen Adams Street, but disagreement over projected costs and a public process for road closures have stalled action.
Port Townsend City Council members deliberated for an hour Monday night before they directed staff to go out for bids, rejecting a $15,000 estimate that would repair each end of the road and add gravel along the edges.
That was after three failed motions and intense discussion for a one-block portion of Adams between Jefferson and Franklin streets in uptown.
“I’m perplexed at how difficult this is,” said City Council member Michelle Sandoval.
Adams Street has been closed since March, initially to serve as a staging area for a contractor that installed sidewalks on Jefferson Street.
That project has been complete for several months, but Adams remains closed, and the city has received public questions asking why.
“The decision-making process could have been done a little more elegantly on this one,” said City Manager John Mauro, who was hired Nov. 1 and has only been briefed on the project.
David Peterson, a city engineer promoted last month to interim public works director, told the council there was a lack of information shared with the public.
“We acknowledge mistakes were made along the way in the process, and we’re here to try to patch it up and move forward,” he said.
Peterson proposed three options that were recommended from the council’s Transportation Committee, including the $15,000 estimate for asphalt that wouldn’t be possible until at least the end of January.
Asphalt plants shut down in December and reopen in the spring, he said.
“The edges were torn up, and the asphalt was broken up and it was removed,” Peterson said of the current state of the road.
A staff-recommended option would be to spend $5,000 to have a city streets crew install permanent barricades and landscaping. That also may include installing a rain garden for stormwater quality control, Peterson said.
The city may opt to keep Adams Street closed through March 20, 2020, and continue to ask for public input before it asks the Transportation Committee to bring back a recommendation in April.
None of the options gained a majority support, even though the majority of the council wanted the street to be reopened.
They disagreed on spending the funds, which would have been about 15 percent of the city’s $100,000 street repair budget for 2020, said Nora Mitchell, the city’s finance director.
Sandoval was the most vocal, saying the issue has irritated her more than any other she’s faced during the time she’s been on the council.
“I won’t use swear words, but I’m close,” she said.
Peterson said the driveable portion of the road is in good shape, but he’s concerned with the edges as well as the turn radius at each intersection.
“We removed some of the damaged pavement,” he said, “but we don’t feel we have enough asphalt on the turns to go up the street to make it a safe street.”
Adams is one of four streets that lead from downtown to uptown, with Monroe, Taylor and Tyler being the others.
Council member Bob Gray asked if any studies have been done that would suggest how people would get out of downtown in the case of an emergency, such as an offshore earthquake that led to a tsunami.
Peterson wasn’t aware of such a study.
Mayor Deborah Stinson said the suggested method would be to walk to higher ground rather than risk getting stuck in a traffic jam.
The state Department of Natural Resources released in October an evacuation map of Port Townsend that shows routes and walk times. The map can be found at tinyurl.com/PDN-tsunamiwalkingmaps on the DNR website.
As council members wrestled with the condition of the road, Rick Jahnke of Port Townsend suggested during public comment that people would have a choice to use it or not.
“The sad reality is, if you open that street as is, it’s not the worst street in Port Townsend,” he said. “I mean that in all due respect.
“Quite frankly, it’s kind of a slap in the face to tell people you need to spend $15,000 before you can open it.”
Sandoval agreed and said the city shouldn’t have to spend money on it immediately.
“This comes back to how we’re going to deal with our streets over the next three years when we start to figure out how to address them through the fire district annexation money,” she said.
“I think we should take down the damn barriers and open up the road. Done.”
Council member David Faber said the city should solidify criteria on future road closures before determining whether or not to spend money on Adams Street.
“We’re diverting money from those roadways to a portion of road that has no driveway access, and it’s not a critical access to downtown,” he said. “It’s astounding to me we are moving in the direction of spending the money.”
Two motions failed 4-3 and another didn’t get a second to move it to a vote.
Council member Ariel Speser voted against her own motion after she suggested the city spend a “nominal amount” and others suggested that may lead to a blank check.
“The goal is to see, ‘Is there a way we can open it without spending $15,000?’” she asked. “I don’t think that’s been answered tonight.”
Peterson said public works staff will have to reduce the scope in order to reduce costs and promised to return to council with multiple bids.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].