Main Street Plaza project aims to enhance downtown Monroe

What started as a utility improvement project has evolved into a full-scale enhancement project that city leaders hope will serve to help revitalize and beautify Monroe's downtown core.
An updated plan for what is now being referred to as the Main Street Plaza project was presented to Monroe City Council on Feb. 24, during the council's regular business meeting.
Initially, the project, which is largely being funded by a Washington State Department of Ecology grant, involved east Main Street from Lewis to Ferry streets, along with a portion of Lewis Street. Intended to separate the stormwater from the sanitary sewer system, the project incorporates the use of pervious concrete along Lewis Street from just south of Fremont Avenue to the alleyway north of Main Street.
On East Main Street, the sidewalks will be removed and replaced with pervious concrete, and the parking lane will be constructed out of a material called PaveDrain.
The project makes use of environmentally-friendly materials, like pervious concrete and PaveDrain, which will save the city money in the long-term by reducing the amount of stormwater processed through the city's wastewater treatment plant. Once the project is complete, stormwater will be processed by passing straight through the pervious material into an infiltration bed installed underground.
More than 7 million gallons of stormwater will no longer be processed at the plant, saving the city roughly $2,600 per year in electrical costs and 30,000 kilowatts of electricity.
The total cost for the East Main Street segment of the project is being estimated at $1,042,593, with $781,945 coming from the ecology grant.
A more attractive streetscape
When city staff unveiled the plans in December, Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas asked about the possibility of duplicating the project on West Main from Lewis to Blakeley streets. He also presented the city council with a proposal for vertical curb removal, in order to create a more contiguous space to better facilitate festivals, street fairs and other events.
The council agreed that the project presented an opportunity to enhance the downtown area, creating a more attractive streetscape and establishing an atmosphere more conducive to pedestrian traffic.
The costs for the West Main Street project are estimated at $450,000, which will be paid for with capital improvement funds. The council held discussion in January regarding the curb removal, and opted for yellow plastic wheel stops to be installed at each parking space GÇô the least expensive method of preventing vehicular intrusions onto pedestrian areas.
On Feb. 24, Public Works Director Brad Feilberg presented the latest design concept to the council. The proposal included flush sidewalks on East and West Main constructed out of pervious concrete, a strip of concrete tinted a reddish-brown color to provide a base for the installation of the yellow plastic wheel stops and gray-colored PaveDrain material in the parking areas. The new design concept also included widened pedestrian areas known as bulb-outs located at the end of each block.
The city is proposing that lighted bollards be utilized in conjunction with the eight bulb-outs, to help delineate the walkway and distinguish it from the road.
"You want to have something that will identify the edge of the pedestrian area, and then at the same time by them being lit, it provides better safety, better security and a more interesting pedestrian environment,GÇ¥ Thomas said.
According to city staff, adding lit bollards to all eight pedestrian bulb-outs would add approximately $80,000 to the cost.
The city is also working to identify a funding source that would enable them to update the plan to include unlit bollards at each parking space, rather than using the plastic wheel stops. Feilberg broke down the financial aspects of the project, explaining that the cost of adding wheel stops to all the parking spaces is roughly $30,000, while unlit bollards would cost around $60,000.
Additional costs
Initially, the council considered utilizing contingency funds to pay for the wheel stops.
Part of the appeal of using bollards rather than wheel stops, Feilberg explained, is that the wheel stops would need to be manually removed in preparation of any festival or event. They would then need to be re-installed after the event concluded, costing the city roughly $3,000 in labor. Feilberg explained that, in addition to constituting a heartier approach to stopping vehicular intrusions, the bollards wouldn't need to be removed and placed back.
Rather than being surface-mounted, bollards are thick, gauge-steel posts that are embedded 2-and-a-half feet into the ground and surrounded by concrete.
Councilmember Patsy Cudaback was supportive of the increased expense stemming from the inclusion of the bollards, favoring them over the removable plastic wheel stops. She zeroed in on several issues with plastic wheel stops, including continual maintenance to address wear and tear and prevent gradual loosening.
"It's my feeling that the bollards just change the whole look of downtown and will be an incredibly nice feature,GÇ¥ Cudaback said. "While we're doing it, to spend an extra $60,000 to get it done better, in my mind, is worth it.GÇ¥
She said that projects like the Main Street Plaza project are what the contingency fund was created for GÇô to facilitate special projects and one-time expenditures meant to enhance the community.
"This is what you hope to use the money on GÇô an opportunity that comes up versus legal fees and things of that nature,GÇ¥ Cudaback said.
Councilmember Kurt Goering was concerned about the $60,000 price tag for unlit bollards. He wasn't in favor of using contingency funds, and was more inclined to stick with the original plan of using wheel stops.
"I think it's something that we could add later GÇô sometime when there's more funding,GÇ¥ Goering said. "On the corners, for sure. It'd be my preference to start there GÇô those are expensive enough as it is. Stick with the wheel stops; I believe bollards could be added later.GÇ¥
Downtown events
Monroe City Administrator Gene Brazel pointed out that the $3,000 cost associated with temporarily removing the wheel stops could be prohibitive to groups seeking to hold street fairs or other events in downtown Monroe. In the interest of promoting the downtown core as a viable area to hold celebrations and other functions, he questioned whether or not the plan to install wheel stops was most conducive to downtown revitalization in the long run.
"That was part of our discussion,GÇ¥ Brazel said. "Is it sensible to even go that direction? Or is it more sensible for the city to put up an additional $30,000 for a project that will be here for the next 30 GÇô 40 years?GÇ¥
In further discussion, Councilmembers Cudaback, Jeff Rasmussen and Ed Davis were strongly in favor of the bollards. Councilmembers Jim Kamp and Goering were supportive, but voiced concerns over the utilization of contingency funds. Councilmembers Jason Gamble and Kevin Hanford were absent.
The city has been in pursuit of other funding opportunities in relation to the project, and has submitted a capital request to Sen. Kirk Pearson for the funding necessary to install lit bollards along both East and West Main. They will continue to explore other avenues.
Cutting down traffic
With the new sidewalks and pedestrian bulb-outs, the city is hopeful that the project will serve to establish a pedestrian-friendly environment in the downtown area. Also discussed was an idea to help influence the flow of traffic to reduce the amount of through-traffic on Main Street. This could be done by installing signage that would encourage travelers to connect with south S.R. 203 via Fremont Street, rather than turning right from West Main onto Lewis.
Currently, there is a four-way stop at Fremont and Blakeley, which could potentially transition to a two-way stop, to better facilitate more streamlined S.R. 203 access.
Thomas pointed out that, at one point in time, traffic did tend to flow down Fremont to connect with S.R. 203.
"They'd turn right at the triangle building, which a number of people do today,GÇ¥ Thomas said. "The four-way stop was put there to dissuade people from doing that, so this would be returning the traffic patterns to something similar to what used to exist.GÇ¥
The city will continue to explore the numerous different aspects of the Main Street Plaza project, including parking methodology and regulations. Parallel versus angle parking will be discussed on Tuesday, March 10, and a public hearing on the parking regulations will be held on Tuesday, March 31.
Funding sources for the accessory portions of the Main Street Plaza project will be discussed at a future city council meeting. The East Main and Lewis Street portion of the project is currently out for bid, with construction tentatively scheduled to begin in April. The three-month project will be staggered, so that only one side of the street is impacted at a time. This will differ from the West Main Street portion of the project, which will likely necessitate the involvement of both sides of the street at once, due to time constraints.
The Mayor is hopeful that both projects will be complete in time for the Monroe Fair Days Parade in August.


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