In an effort to speed completion of the State Route 14 construction project through Bingen, the city has reversed an earlier decision and will resume construction in the business district soon.
Originally, the timetable called for a halt to work in the downtown core during the summer months in an effort to minimize impacts to businesses. But with the results of an informal poll of Bingen's downtown merchants in hand, the city is changing course.
"We're going to go ahead and let them start working downtown as soon as the utility conflicts are resolved," said Mayor Brian Prigel.
The reassessment will allow KLB Construction to return to downtown for streetscaping work as early as next week.
On July 22, the city sent a letter to 29 businesses in the city, and 20 business owners responded. According to Mayor Prigel, only two merchants objected to restarting the work. The other 18 supported a proposal to restart the downtown work before Sept. 2, which was the date originally scheduled.
The initial plan was designed to be less disruptive to downtown businesses, but with the highway torn up to the west of town and traffic lighter as a result, most merchants expressed a desire to "get it over with."
"I think they will start in front of the Winery Building," Prigel said. "The utility work is nearing completion, and everything is starting to take shape. The trees and landscaping will be finished in the fall."
Conflicts related to the shifting of utility wires, poles, and pipes has also slowed the contractor in some areas.
Prigel pointed out that the contractor has already been granted an extension of 15 working days to complete the project because of utility conflicts and things beyond the contractor's control.
The extra days do not increase project costs for the city.
In a letter, the city explained the reason for reconsidering the timetable for the downtown work this way: "We are considering the contractor's request to make sure that the project and the paving are completed before winter," it read. "If paving cannot be complete before cold or wet weather, it will have to wait until spring. KLB would like to begin work on the drainage system in mid-August. This would involve installing storm drains and associated piping along the existing sidewalks on the south side. Sidewalks would not be removed until Sept. 2."
The city then asked the following question: "Should KLB Construction be allowed to start limited construction work in the core downtown area (Cherry Street to Willow Street) prior to Sept. 2?"
Prigel said the prime construction season wouldn't last forever.
"We hope to have paving done by the end of October," he said. "That's the critical part of it. And we hope to have the project 100 percent done by early December. If things continue at this rate, we're staring to push into November, which is kind of an iffy time period."
Typically, the WDOT does not schedule paving after Oct. 15.
"DOT will still pave after that, but we would need special approval to do it based on weather conditions and temperature," Prigel explained.
One of the businesses opposed to restarting the work before September was Custom Interface, Inc., at 115 W. Steuben.
Barbara Warren, finance manager for Custom Interface, said the business worked with electronic components that could be damaged in a construction environment.
"If they're going to do it, they're going to do it," Warren said. "But we work with electronics, and so much of the material is very, very dust sensitive. We have a lot of sensitive testing equipment too, so hopefully we won't have to put up with too much vibration."
Warren said she hoped a water truck was employed to keep the dust down, and that crews would do a more efficient job on the south side than they did on the north side.
"They were jumping all over the place," she said. "Hopefully they'll get it done with as minimal an amount of disruption as possible."
Prigel said that once new light poles for the north side of SR 14 were installed, the bulk of the south side work could go forward.
"They have to be up and functional on the north side before we can take the poles down on the south side," Prigel said. "We don't want downtown to be dark, for safety and security reasons."
Representatives of KLB plan to meet with city of Bingen and Washington Department of Transportation officials on Aug. 8 to discuss the option of paying overtime to the contractors or bringing in additional crews and equipment.