Last Thursday's meeting on the upcoming construction on State Route 14 in downtown Bingen was "overwhelmingly positive," according to Mayor Brian Prigel.
City officials sent 60 invitations out to business and other property owners along State Route 14, and more than 40 of them showed up for a Jan. 31 meeting at Fidel's to discuss the best way to handle the planned highway reconstruction through Bingen.
"There were people from most of the businesses in town," Prigel said. "It was more positive than I expected. Basically, everyone agreed they wanted to get the work done as quickly as possible and to avoid working during the peak summer months."
To speed the construction, one suggestion was to have contractors on the project work around the clock, but Prigel said he didn't see that as realistic.
"Many contractors wouldn't have the equipment or manpower to run 24-7," Prigel said.
Prigel said work on the highway is expected to start by late summer or sometime in the fall.
Plans call for upgrading the highway from the Hood River Toll Bridge, through downtown and east as far as the city limits near the Big River Diner.
Highlights of the project will include:
Repaving the entire stretch of highway from the bridge to Bingen's eastern city limits;
Adding a middle turn lane and a sidewalk on the south side of the highway from Bridge Mart to Jewett Creek;
Improving vehicle access to Underwood Fruit;
Adding new sidewalks on both sides of the highway from Jewett Creek to Willow Street;
Rebuilding the sidewalks on both sides through the core business district;
Placing utility wires underground in the downtown area;
Extending a new sidewalk on the north side of SR 14 all the way to Big River Diner.
"Assuming there are no holdups on right of way acquisition, the work could start this summer," Prigel said. "The later we wait, the more chance there is of weather-related delays."
Bob Dobyne, owner of Mirror Image in downtown Bingen, said he was concerned about starting the project late in the year when the rainy season is coming.
"We don't particularly want to end up with a duck pond in front of our store," Dobyne explained.
Dobyne said he felt better about the Washington Department of Transportation after the meeting.
"There was flexibility in their scheduling," he said. "I appreciate that, and there is an opportunity for input."
Prigel explained that most business owners in Bingen would prefer waiting until the summer season is over before getting the road work started.
He added that one of the primary goals is to keep two lanes of traffic open on SR 14 as much as possible to minimize congestion and impacts on local businesses.
"We will be maintaining two-way traffic at all times except for when they are working on the crosswalks or something like that," Prigel said.
Prigel added that the highway construction project is expected to require from six months to a year to complete, depending on the weather.
Dobyne said he was concerned the contractors might leave a mess if they have to take much time off due to bad weather.
"We shouldn't be left all winter with gravel sidewalks and streets," Dobyne warned. "The business community can survive the road being gravel for a time, but not the sidewalks. My philosophy is, get her done. Go at it 24 hours and get it over with. I'll close down for a week if it helps."
Dobyne added that he hopes most of the work can be complete by the first of November.
"A lot of businesses here do a lot of Christmas business," he pointed out. "And we don't want the utility crews in here during the Gorge Games in July. The Gorge Games affected us highly last year, and it was very, very positive. Everybody benefits from that, and we don't want the utility construction to put us out of business at that point."
The project is estimated to cost $6.2 million, most of which will be paid by the federal and state government.
Prigel added that a public open house to further discuss the project is planned for Feb. 28. Comments will be taken from the public, and WDOT officials are also expected to provide better information about how the project will happen, and when it will start.
Dobyne added that he generally supported the highway work and other proposed upgrades in Bingen's business district.
"I have no objection to what they are planning," Dobyne said. "It's a great opportunity to make the town shine."