UW Tacoma: City awards $1.8M contract to realign streets near campus

Tacoma City Council Tuesday awarded a $1.8 million contract for a public works project that aims to make it a...

Tacoma City Council Tuesday awarded a $1.8 million contract for a public works project that aims to make it a little easier to navigate the streets of downtown near the University of Washington Tacoma (UWT) campus.

For anyone familiar with the area, South 17th Street is cut off between Broadway and South Commerce Street by a small greenspace, forcing cars and pedestrians to head south on Broadway for a half-block, then backtrack a half-block north on Jefferson Avenue, before reconnecting to South 17th Street.

According to a report prepared by City of Tacoma staff, UWT officials approached City officials to discuss the idea of turning South 17th Street into a through street. After a series of meetings, a realignment was proposed that would connect the two segments of South 17th Street, preserve a portion of the existing greenspace, and terminate Jefferson Avenue at Broadway. The two groups drafted an agreement whereas the City would manage the project, and UWT would pay for most of the project.

When completed, the project will extend South 17th Street from Broadway to Commerce Street; realign the intersection of Jefferson Avenue, Broadway, and South 17th Street; improve pedestrian amenities; construct a reinforced concrete wall, new sidewalk, bulb-outs, and ADA ramps; remove and replace asphalt and concrete pavements; and add new channelization, crosswalks, street lights, and a raised mid-block crossing, according to a legal notice published earlier this year in the Tacoma Daily Index. The project will also include significant utility work, such as a new storm drain system; a 60-inch diameter storm transmission segment; and a water supply main replacement.

In December, Tacoma City Council approved a resolution allowing the City to enter into a development agreement with UWT (see “South 17th Street re-alignment planned near UW Tacoma,” Tacoma Daily Index, Dec. 19, 2013; and “Tacoma City Council to discuss District 1 candidate interviews, Jefferson Avenue alignment,” Tacoma Daily Index, Dec. 13, 2013).

The City put the project out for bid this summer (see “City seeks bids on South 17th Street re-alignment project near UW Tacoma,” Tacoma Daily Index, Aug. 5, 2014). A pre-bid meeting was held on Mon., Aug. 11, at 9 a.m., at Tacoma City Hall. The bid deadline was originally set to expire on Tues., Aug. 19, at 11 a.m. That deadline was revised to expire on Tues., Aug. 26, at 11 a.m. Two contractors submitted bids (see “2 contractors bid on South 17th Street re-alignment project near UW Tacoma,” Tacoma Daily Index, Aug. 26, 2014): R. L. Alia Company (Renton, Wash. — $2,054,449.50 to $2,002,149.50); and Northwest Cascade (Tacoma, Wash. — $1,798,705.50 to $1,643,440.50).

On Tuesday, Tacoma City Council approved a purchase resolution that awards the contract to Northwest Cascade. According to City of Tacoma Associate Engineer and Project Manager Darius Thompson, construction is scheduled to begin next month. The project is expected to be completed next spring.

“The realignment and improvements will help the University of Washington Tacoma reduce vehicular incidents, and also improve safety for pedestrians,” Thompson told councilmembers on Tuesday.

“This is an example of taking an area that was a bit counterintuitive, whether you are driving or walking, and trying to make some sense out of it, and making it more pedestrian-friendly,” said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland.

Councilmember David Boe supported the project, but reiterated a concern he raised last year (see “South 17th Street re-alignment planned near UW Tacoma,” Tacoma Daily Index, Dec. 19, 2013) regarding a small piece of history that will be “erased” when the realignment terminates Jefferson Avenue at Broadway. Boe noted that during the late-1800s, Jefferson Avenue was a vital transportation corridor in Tacoma.

“The layout of Tacoma, of course, consisted of three grand boulevards — Pacific, Tacoma, and K, now MLK — with the two beautiful angled streets — St. Helens down to Broadway, and Jefferson all the way down to Pacific — to facilitate non-motorized transportation,” explained Boe before councilmembers voted on the resolution Tuesday. “In the days of 1873, of course, it was horses pulling the streetcars and pulling the carts, the goods, up and down Tacoma, and Jefferson and St. Helens were the means by which that was done. So, it’s a loss, a little bit, of that history.”

Boe hoped the City and UWT could create an identification marker that would illustrate Jefferson Avenue’s historic role as an important conduit for goods up and down the hill into South Tacoma.

Still, he agreed the project would improve public safety in the area. “Anyone who’s coming to and from Tollefson Plaza — the four or five people that do that — you are not getting blinded by that angled traffic, which is really pretty scary, even with the pedestrian crosswalks, because of the blind corners,” said Boe. “So I’m sad to see it coming forward, but it makes perfect sense the design that is being proposed.”

To read the Tacoma Daily Index’s complete and comprehensive coverage of the South 17th Street realignment project, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index, an award-winning journalist, and author of A Reporter At Large: A decade of Tacoma interviews, feature articles, and photographs. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.

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