Archive for Thursday, March 2, 2006

Showdown on High St.

March 2, 2006

It's about to happen. The peaceful tranquility of downtown High Street is about to end.

City officials in the past have said that High Street will look like a "war zone." That's because there will be three separate projects undertaken in the next few months that will block traffic along Baldwin's "main street."

The first on the list is the bridge on High Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets, just east of downtown. Baldwin City Council awarded the contract last week for the roughly $325,000 project to replace the century-plus old bridge.

"The High Street bridge and Fourth and Fifth streets was bid and a contract awarded and construction could start anytime," said Jeff Dingman, city administrator. "The bridge will be closed for up to 120 days by contract.

"When Bill (Winegar, utility director) meets with the contractor to get a better idea of the project's progression, we will be able to publicize about when the bridge will be closed and a better idea for approximately how long," Dingman said. "This should move forward fairly quickly from this point."

Douglas County is contributing $125,000 of the project cost. On the other two High Street projects, the Kansas Department of Transportation is providing 80 percent of the funding for both, with each costing more than $1 million.

Those projects involve redeveloping the sidewalks and other work in downtown Baldwin and restoration of the famous "Women's Bridge" which is on High Street between 10th and 11th streets. Although plans call for those projects to start soon, no firm dates have been established.

"As for the downtown and Women's Bridge projects, we don't have final construction drawings yet," he said. "We have some state and federal red tap to clear before we can let the projects for bidding.

"When we do that, we will have a contractor to work with in order to more clearly define the order of work and approximately when and for how long each property will be inconvenienced," said Dingman. "At that time, we will communicate specifics with the property and business owners."

In addition, the city will hold another public meeting to inform the general population about what's going on with the downtown project.

"I also anticipate another public meeting right around the start of construction to inform the general public about how the project will progress," he said.

Because that project involves sidewalks, closing High Street in downtown Baldwin won't happen. That's not the case with the Women's Bridge, which will cut off West Baldwin from High Street. Although there will be detour routes available, they won't be as handy as those on the Fourth and Fifth street projects.

"As for the Women's Bridge, we'll try to handle it much the same way as the first bridge," said Dingman. "Giving timelines at this point without having a contractor on board to commit to time frames would likely be not very accurate."

The last two projects are different from the first because of the funding.

"For both of the grant projects, our timeline has slid a little due to the inevitable 'one more hurdle' to clear before we can get authorization to let for bids," he said. "That should happen within two weeks, which should allow us to move forward and still have construction starting in April."

Of course, the biggest question is will the downtown project be completed by the Maple Leaf Festival? That's the way the timeline has been set up, but without a contractor yet, it remains a question.

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