Saturday, April 19, 2014

City’s path: One step at a time

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 9/2/2013

The new sidewalk running along the southern edge of Ottawa’s golf course gleamed in the midday sun Monday.

Some critics have called the new concrete walkway along Logan Street, between Spruce Street and Davis Road, a sidewalk to nowhere. Others have looked upon it as a sign the city is on a progressive path.

The new sidewalk running along the southern edge of Ottawa’s golf course gleamed in the midday sun Monday.

Some critics have called the new concrete walkway along Logan Street, between Spruce Street and Davis Road, a sidewalk to nowhere. Others have looked upon it as a sign the city is on a progressive path.

Wynndee Lee, the city’s director of planning and codes, has heard both opinions. And what she sees is a continuous walking route from Main Street to Davis Road and numerous other points on the north and south sides of the Marais des Cygnes River, Lee said.

“These sidewalks might look like they lead to nowhere right now, but they are all part of a larger plan for improvements across the city,” Lee said. “Absent of someone coming forward with a lot of money, I don’t know how to do it except one step at a time.”

The city was able to put in the sidewalks on Logan, from Spruce to Davis, primarily through the use of Kansas Department of Transportation dollars allocated for improvements to the K-68/Logan Street and Davis Road intersection, which included adding turning lanes and a traffic signal at the high-traffic intersection.

“That was a phenomenal project, because we were able to use state dollars, and [KDOT] agreed to allow us to expand the sidewalk to Spruce Street as part of the project — the sidewalk was not going to extend that far under the original plans,” Lee said.

The sidewalk was the first phase of a continued expansion to make Davis Road to Main Street accessible by foot, Lee said.

LOGAN STREET PROJECT

“We are evaluating the area between Spruce and Main, with several blocks of missing sidewalk or really bad sidewalk, as well as curbs that need to be replaced,” Lee said. “We hope to expand the sidewalk on Logan Street from Spruce to Main this fall. We want to create one continuous corridor from Main to Davis that is accessible.”

Lee could not put a price estimate on the project, she said, because it was just in the beginning stages. The city also is evaluating what financial resources it would have available to allocate to the project, depending on where construction bids come in, Lee said.“We are trying to stretch our dollars as far as we can,” she said. “If the Logan Street project doesn’t eat up all the money we have available, we are working to identify places where we can replace bad panels in sidewalks that are already well-used or near public buildings.”

The city also is looking at sidewalks that are in need of repair or expansion throughout the city in the future, Lee said.

“We are continuing to fill in gaps where there were never sidewalks or sections of it are missing or in bad shape and need to be replaced,” she said. “But the Logan Street project will be our No. 1 priority this fall.”

As an expansion of the Main Street to Davis Road walking corridor, Lee said the city is exploring options to make the industrial park more accessible to foot traffic in the future.

“We are looking at what we can do in the industrial park because that’s a major employment center,” Lee said.

FLINT HILLS NATURE TRAIL

Another priority for the city this fall is upgrading a section of the Flint Hills Nature Trail, Lee said.

The city obtained a $20,425 grant through the Topeka-based Sunflower Foundation to extend and improve the Flint Hills Nature Trail along First Street, from Walnut Street to Willow Street. The improvement project is to include the construction of a 1,200-foot long, 8-foot wide crushed rock trail section that would connect the Flint Hills Nature Trail with the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail, which follows the same path as the former Missouri Pacific Railway.

Improved lighting and signage are to be part of the upgrades, city officials have said.

“The project is to start and finish this fall,” Lee said. “It’s being done by city crews, and funding through the Sunflower grant is helping to pay for materials. A lighting upgrade and stormwater adjustments also will be made.”

The city’s quest to improve the community’s sidewalks and trails could receive some technical assistance in the near future from the U.S. National Park Service.

The city learned last week that its application for a technical assistance grant had received preliminary approval from the federal agency, Tom Yahl, planner and codes officer, said.

“There would not be any grant dollars — it’s for technical assistance as part of [the park service’s] Rivers and Trails Conservation Program,” Yahl said.

The park service’s technical assistance would bring another expert to the table to develop a course for the city’s trail and sidewalk improvement plans, Lee said.

“The technical assistance grant would help us frame in what we want to do, in addition to the feedback we’ve received from residents and others,” Lee said. “[The park service] could provide additional resources to develop our plans more thoroughly.”

In addition, Lee said, the city would continue to explore federal, state and local funding options to complete future projects.

“We also are looking for ways to connect the Prairie Spirit Rail Trail to the Country Mart and Walmart retail area, as well as provide options for people who may be staying at a hotel and want to go somewhere without driving,” Lee said.

‘OUR OWN WORST ENEMY’

The sidewalk-to-nowhere criticism is for those who are looking at the Logan Street project in the short term, Lee said.

“It’s absolutely part of a wider plan,” she said. “No one development can carry the whole [financial] weight of a project. It has to be done in stages.”

Lee described a recent email from a motorist who was diverted off I-35 at the K-68 in Ottawa because of a Aug. 25 wreck.

“He said, ‘Wow, what a treasure you have,’” Lee said. “He talked about the retail we have downtown. We hear from people all over the state who talk about how we have so much to be thankful for and celebrate in Ottawa. Sometimes, I think we are our own worst enemy.”

As the city is able to complete sections of its plans for the community’s sidewalks and trails, those improvements could accelerate other development and infrastructure opportunities in the future, Lee said.

The rule of thumb years ago was not to build sidewalks as part of developments if they did not connect with another sidewalk, Lee said. But planners no longer follow that path.

“There are some developments where there are no sidewalks at all along the frontage, because they would have had to be put in on an incremental basis, and nobody wanted to do that,” Lee said. “So, we missed out on an opportunity.”

Lee said the city’s purpose in putting together a blueprint for future sidewalk and trail work is to avoid missing out on opportunities to improve amenities and promote growth.

“We want people out exercising,” Lee said. “And, from a transportation standpoint, we want to provide access to facilities, other than just by vehicle.”

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