WALLA WALLA — A handful of Rose Street business owners at Wednesday’s City Council meeting lambasted plans to remove two lanes of through traffic after a repaving and stoplight project is completed later this year.
The $2.2 million Rose Street reconfiguration from 13th Avenue to Myra Road was not on the Council’s meeting agenda. But that didn’t stop local business operator Tim Demitor, four other business owners and a home owner from saying they thought taking away driving lanes to add biking lanes was a bad idea.
“My big thing is that Rose is an industrial arterial. It is not a walk in the park,” Demitor said, adding that industrial rigs from businesses like Koncrete Industries and Ferrellgas rely on a steady flow of traffic provided by four lanes.
“It’s just basically a bad idea. Keep it four lanes. Repave it. Throw in a light and I would be happy,” Demitor said.
Council members last month argued over the plan to remove two driving lanes in exchange for a center turn lane and bike lanes on each side of the arterial.
The reconfiguration plan narrowly passed 3-2, with Council members Jerry Cummins and Mary Lou Jenkins voting against the configuration. Mayor Jim Barrow and Council members Barbara Clark and Chris Plucker voted for the lane reduction and addition of bike lanes.
Members Conrado Cavasos and Shane Laib were absent.
In a presentation to the Council last month, city engineering staff maintained the new configuration will increase sight distance and reduce the number of crashes on Rose Street.
Most business owners were concerned the lane reduction would make it harder for employees, as well as large trucks, to enter and leave parking lots.
They also noted regular traffic from Valley Transit buses would only exacerbate future traffic congestion.
“We get a lot of trucks, small and large, trucks that travel that highway from our supplier,” Arnold Ewoniuk of Grassi Refrigeration said. “I am afraid the bus traffic that goes up and down, even though they don’t stop, there is a lot of bus traffic on that road. And the bicycles? There really isn’t a lot of bicycle traffic on the road.”
Also among those voicing concerns was a resident of Golden West Estates mobile home park.
“These are senior citizens (referring to park residents) and they have very good driving records,” Leon Olsen told the Council. “If this plan goes through, which in my opinion is quite ridiculous, we will see many accidents. You cannot take a four-lane highway into a three-lane and not expect to have problems.”
The Rose Street project includes the addition of a traffic light at 13th Avenue. That installation would cost just shy of $700,000, with about 80 percent funded through state transportation and safety grants.
The project would also require the removal of older sycamore trees that line Rose Street. In previous meetings, city officials said that reducing driving lanes and adding bike lanes would require fewer trees to be cut down, with the current estimate at no more than 10 trees near intersections to improve motorist sight lines.
City engineers reported last month that keeping Rose Street at four lanes would require removal of many more of the trees.
“The bike lanes are important. If you got those wide lanes it kind of keeps people from thinking they can make their own lane,” Council Member Barbara Clark said in phone interview today. “That is what gives you the possibility of pointing the nose of your car out a little bit so you can look around those trees.”
None of the six people who commented at Wednesday’s meeeting spoke out against cutting down the trees, though the Union-Bulletin has received a number of letters and online comments opposing removal.
Demitor, though he wants to keep the current four-lane configuration of Rose Street in place, said he would favor removal of they sycamores.
“The trees on Rose, I used to admire them when I first moved here,” he said. “They are deplorable now. They are overgrown. They are a hazard.”
City have noted they could always go back to a four lane reconfiguration if the current plan proved impractical.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.