When is an alley really a street?

Officials found five homes had no access other than the alley. The discovery led to a paving project.

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WALLA WALLA - The road to a better life via an asphalt street had been a bumpy road for a handful of residents who live on or near a one-block stretch of Harrison Street.

The problem was that depending on who you ask, Walla Walla has two Harrison streets.

According to city maps, the 200 block of Harrison Street runs parallel to Harrison Creek for about 200 feet before it ends.

As for that other Harrison Street, it is officially an alley between Harrison Creek and Morton Street that runs from Chase Avenue to South Fourth Avenue.

But for the residents of 209, 217 and 231 Harrison Street the alley is the only way to get to their homes. To them that makes it a street. "What really is bad was the winter time. They don't plow things at all," said Lee Warner, whose mother lived in one of the alley-accessed homes until recently.

Even on the official Harrison Street, there are two more houses with limited access from the street because Harrison Creek cuts across their front yard.

So when Lorita Romero wants to park in front of her home and walk directly to her front door, she must cross a wobbly bridge with no guardrails that could be described as unsafe for an 81-year-old, especially when the bridge is icy.

"If it gets bad weather I just don't know," Romero said from the doorstep of her home, overlooking a beautiful yard of roses, gladioli and other blooming flowers - a stark contrast to her warped, deteriorating, unpainted, wafer-board bridge. Needless to say, she prefers the alley, even though it had been a bumpy ride for decades.

After a unanimous vote of approval last month, which was preceded by lengthy debates as to why the city needed to pave an alley, Council members agreed this was an unusual situation worthy of the $11,000 it would take to make life better for five families.

"What really pushed us to consider the paving was the fact that though it is called an alley, it is the only access to five residents who truly have no access. There is only one way in," said City Manager Nabiel Shawa. So earlier this month the alley was paved.

That had Victor Rodin almost dancing with joy, as the Russian immigrant and American citizen struggled to say in English how thankful he was.

"We like it. We are thankful because dark time here. Is no light. We can't walk," Rodin said, and the expressive 67-year-old retired truck driver mimicked tripping to explain without words what it had been like to walk down the alley to get his mail.

The alley paving project couldn't have happened at a more convenient time, Shawa added, since the alley had to be torn up this summer to lay underground pipes. That project resulted from the discovery of an undersized, intruding and deteriorating water line that was uncovered during the repaving of Morton Street, which was the city's first Infrastructure Repair and Replacement Project.

"As we do this (IRRP projects), it is like remodeling an old house. And when you do this you don't know what you are going to find until you get in there," Shawa said.

Now the one question that Warner, Romero and Rodin have is if the U.S. Postal Service will reinstate the doorstep delivery service it had previously provided but took away when officials determined the unpaved and bumpy Harrison Street alley was too dangerous for their carriers to navigate.

"It is OK. We need a little bit walk," Rodin said, and mimicked walking to the end of the alley to his mail box.

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