Creating a more attractive, efficient business district was one of the main objectives of the State Route 14 reconstruction in Bingen. But one longtime business owner is concerned that the downtown revitalization project could have the opposite effect on his livelihood.
Norm Guler, owner of Guler Oil, a Shell service station at 115 E. Steuben, believes the "bulbed-out" curbs being installed on SR 14 will severely restrict access to his card-lock refueling station on Depot Street. He said the Oak Street intersection in particular would hamper trucks seeking to use his facilities.
"I get 70-80 trucks a day that refuel back there," Guler explained. "They spend some money and I'd like to keep it that way. If nothing else, it's a safety issue. If a truck swings out to make the turn, it has to go into the other lane."
Guler said he didn't raise the issue sooner because he didn't realize how much of an impact the extended curbs would have.
"It was hard for me to believe the planners wouldn't design a street to handle truck traffic," he said. "If the turns are too tight, the truckers will go right on down the road somewhere else. That would cost me a lot of money. I thought we were spending all this money to attract people to stop and spend money."
Guler attended the Sept. 16 meeting of the Bingen City Council, hoping he could convince council members to alter the design at the Oak Street intersection.
However, since the SR 14 project is already behind schedule and changes would require moving newly-placed pipes and drains, the council declined to approve alterations.
Estimates to move the existing infrastructure to provide for a redesign at Oak Street were estimated to be roughly $20,000, and the council decided not to change course now.
"That intersection is the way it is," said Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel.
Prigel pointed out that Walnut Street and Maple Street were designed to handle large truck traffic, while Oak Street was not. He said that was a deliberate decision.
Guler questioned the city's planning process regarding his business. He pointed out that the card-lock facility has been in operation on Depot Street since 1987.
"It's not like it's something brand new," he said.
Rather than spend money to rework the Oak Street intersection, council members suggested that amount of money could be better spent on repairs to Depot Street, thereby smoothing access to the card-lock.
Council member Randy Anderson suggested making improvements to Depot Street and putting in signs to guide trucks to Guler's card-lock via Maple or Walnut instead of Oak.
"We can work together with signage, and it's not that tough," Anderson said. "Any time you have a redesign this late in the game, it's very costly. I'm confident there are other solutions."
The proposed signage would advise truckers to use Walnut or Maple streets to reach Guler's card-lock once Depot Street is improved.
Council member Jeanette Fentie agreed.
"I like the idea of rerouting the trucks onto Depot," Fentie said.
Guler told the council that it was important that the "CFN" (Commercial Fueling Network) logo appear on any signs on the highway directing traffic to his station, and city officials pledged to ask the Washington Department of Transportation if use of the logo would be allowed.
Upgrading of Depot Street -- which the city of Bingen owns -- has already been identified as a long-range objective of downtown revitalization efforts.
"We'd still be spending the $20,000, but this way, that money would benefit another street," explained council member Laura Mann.
Prigel proposed patching or paving the badly-potholed Depot Street, striping it, and defining parking areas. He noted that in many parts of Depot, two semi-trucks would not have room to pass due to the narrow roadway.
"Parking is haphazard on Depot Street, and that contributes to the narrowness there," Prigel said.
After the meeting, Guler said upgrading Depot Street would probably address most of his concerns about lost truck traffic. But he pointed out that his business could suffer heavily until then.
"It probably would help if they do it like they say they would, but how soon will they do that?" Guler questioned. "The problem is here now. They've got the intersection messed up, and we can't get trucks in there. A lot of them are fighting it and coming in anyway, and the local truckers will use it. But the highway truckers just go on through if they can't get in easily."
Guler added that he takes in more revenue via the card-lock station, rather than at the regular service station facing SR 14.
"I get more business going through the card lock, maybe three times as much or more," he said.
Prigel did not have an estimate for the cost of the proposed improvements to Depot Street, but he said he hoped the work could get started in the spring.