A plan to upgrade 56th Avenue West and other streets in the Town Center District with wider sidewalks, underground utilities and new roadway surfaces hit another bump in the road last week, but Mountlake Terrace City Manager Arlene Fisher is still optimistic the project will get done.
The Main Street Revitalization project has been touted by city officials as a catalyst that would spur economic development along 56th Avenue West, 236th Street Southwest and a number of other downtown city blocks. Originally pegged at costing $10.5 million, latest estimates put the work at $12 million; the City of Mountlake Terrace has only secured about $8.7 million for the project.
The city was counting on federal funds to help with paying for the plan, but U.S. Representative Rick Larsen said last week that his effort to change a policy that makes in more difficult for cities the size of Mountlake Terrace to obtain federal transportation dollars has failed.
This blow to Mountlake Terrace City Hall follows a 2014 Washington State Legislative session that failed to produce state money that city officials had also been hoping would come.
“We’re not going to give up,” said Fisher when asked if the Main Street Revitalization plan was losing momentum. “We’re still on track.”
Back in Washington D.C., the House of Representatives passed the FY2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill by a vote of 229-192 last week. But Larsen voted no on the bill, due in part to his belief that the $100 million for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants was not enough. Also, the bill did not include a provision to specify 20 percent of the spending go to cities the size of Mountlake Terrace.
“The bill cuts opportunities for communities to fund new transportation projects through TIGER grants while ignoring the small and mid-sized cities my TIGER CUBS bill would support,” Larsen said.
Mountlake Terrace officials were hoping to secure at least $1 million through a TIGER grant from the federal government for its Main Street Revitalization project.
During the state legislative session that ended on March 13, city officials were lobbying in Olympia for a portion of a proposed $8 billion supplemental transportation package to go towards the Main Street plan. The city had been hoping for as much as $3.3 million of that money, but the legislation never passed.
Fisher acknowledges that the lack of federal and state money this year has hurt, but funds from both sources may still happen.
Fisher was ready to welcome Larsen to city hall last Friday for a meeting to discuss federal funding for the Main Street Revitalization project, but the congressman’s schedule got changed at the last minute. Fisher thinks that Larsen will be back in town soon though.
“They wanted to reaffirm what our needs were for the next appropriation session,” Fisher said of the Friday meeting that was abruptly cancelled. “The discussion was going to center around that. I’m sure it will happen again, probably later this summer.”
As for state money, Fisher recently talked with State Rep. Derek Stanford. “He knows that from the state side there is three million dollars that we need,” she said.
“All of our needs are definitely out there – they’re definitely aware of that,” she continued. “It’s just getting everyone in the legislature back into session and back at the table.”
The $8 billion transportation package was to be paid for with a gas tax increase of up to 11.5 cents per gallon phased in over three years, something that may have scared off legislators during an election year, Fisher noted.
“The thing with the state is that any representative will tell you that the gas tax package, where a lot of this – not only our money but several cities fundings were tied up – we were right in the middle of filing for elections. There were so many folks that were up for re-election, and they really didn’t want to step out there with their name going up on the ballot.”
Fisher shared that one legislator told her more of her colleagues would have voted for the gas tax hike if they had known that they would have been running unopposed for re-election this fall.
“We’re hopeful that the next legislative session that they’re going to have enough momentum to get this going again,” Fisher said. Unless Gov. Jay Inslee calls the Legislature back to Olympia for a special session – unlikely this election year – lawmakers won’t be back to work until January, 2015.
Although the city hasn’t secured all the money it needs for construction to start on the street revitalization, it does have enough to start some preliminary elements of the project. The city has hired KPG design firm of Seattle to submit initial designs, and a contractor has been hired to underground utilities for the Vineyard Park senior living project currently being constructed at 231st Street Southwest and 56th Avenue West.
Fisher points to the undergrounding of utilities being done at Vineyard Park as an important step in showing the public what the Town Center District of Mountlake Terrace will look like in the future. “I told Chad (Schulhauser, MLT Engineering Services Director), ‘Let’s start putting this stuff underground. Let’s start building that vision so people can see when the wires are underground. Let’s start it; get it going,’ Fisher said. “Because we’re going to have Vineyard (Park) fill up, just like Arbor Village did, and why not start that vision, why not start that undergrounding.”
Fisher calls the work being done to put power, phone and cable wires underground at the Vineyard Park project a “phase in” of improvements to be completed in the Main Street Revitalization project. She also said it’s an example of how the city can make Town Center District improvements utilizing existing funds collected.
Schulhauser told the City Council last week that major work on street and sidewalk amenities couldn’t be started until early 2017, giving time for city officials to line up the remaining $3.3 million required for the project.
The Mountlake Terrace City Council is scheduled to receive an update on the Main Street Revitalization project at its July 3 work/study session.
Main Street Revitalization costs (April, 2014)
- Design and survey work $ 1.5 million
- Undergrounding utilities $ 1.9 million
- Energy district (tentative) $ 1.1 million
- Street and pedestrian lighting $ .5 million
- Water, stormwater and sewer improvements $ 1.0 million
- Trees and tree grates $ .3 million
- Construction and inspection $ 5.7 million
TOTAL $12.0 million
Main Street Revitalization funding secured
- Transportation Benefit District $20 license tab fee collections $ 5.7 million
- Washington State Capital Budget appropriation $ 2.0 million
- Washington State grant $ .65 million
- City of Mountlake Terrace funds $ .35 million
TOTAL: $ 8.7 million
— By Doug Petrowski