Winslow Way project gets a multi-million dollar surprise from the state

The city of Bainbridge earned a $3.5 million state grant that will pay for almost 30 percent of a major road and utilities project planned for Winslow’s main street.

Awarded this week by the state Transportation Improvement Board, the money will fund the surface portions of the larger $12.3 million project, including new bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks and road repairs on Winslow Way.

The grant amount exceeded expectations, said Deputy Planning Director Chris Wierzbicki.

“We were trying to be conservative so we thought maybe we’d get one million dollars,” he said. “But now we have three and a half million, so that’s really good.”

The grant’s unexpected bulk means the city can shave off about $1.5 million in bond funding budgeted for the project. The city will see additional cost savings by not having to pay an annual $150,000 in bond-related debt payments over 20 years, Wierzbicki said.

The grant is a sizable cost offset for a project that has drawn criticism for its multi-million dollar price tag.

“Now more than 50 percent of this is coming from grants,” said Wierzbicki, noting that the city has already obtained $2.5 million in federal funds and $1 million in private donations.

Additional funding may come from a $2.5 million low-interest loan the city has requested from the state Department of Ecology.

The project will still likely draw upon bond funding provided by utility ratepayers in Winslow.

City Councilwoman Kim Brackett, who has been critical of the project, welcomed the grant but remained concerned that Winslow ratepayers may still be unfairly burdened.

“In an economic recession, one has to be prudent” about the tax burdens placed on residents and businesses, she said.

Bainbridge landscape architect Tom von Schrader said the plan’s environmentally sensitive approach helped push the city’s grant application ahead of the competition, earning the board’s highest “sustainability” rating.

“Once reason we got the grant was because the city has been visionary in (developing) a non-ordinary streetscape,” said von Schrader, whose Seattle-based SvR Design helped develop the street plan.

The overall plan calls for improvements to the street’s stormwater treatment system, which currently funnels untreated surface water into Eagle Harbor. Von Schrader said key elements of the proposed stormwater system include areas of porous pavement and rain gardens, which collect and filter surface water.

“As designers, we often choose to do conventional streets,” he said. “But we’ve got to move past that now that things are so urgent with Puget Sound. I’m thrilled Bainbridge is out in front of a lot of other communities.”

The grant was one of the largest awarded this year. A few larger awards in the $5 million range went to projects in Seattle, Tacoma and Bothel.

“This is a significant opportunity for Bainbridge, as many (Transportation Improvement Board) grants do not reach the grant level that this grant did,” Councilwoman Hilary Franz said, adding that about $213 million was requested from numerous communities, but only $27.3 was granted.

The grant’s contribution to the Bainbridge project will pay for a bike lane on the east portion of Winslow Way and bike markings, also known as “sharrows,” on other portions of the street.

Sidewalks will expand from an average width of about five feet to about 8.5 feet.

Some on-street parking will be reconfigured for safer traffic flow.

The city may use a portion of the grant to clean soil contaminants at the former Unocal gas station property on the southwest corner of the Winlsow Way-State Route 305 intersection. The city-owned property can then be developed into a downtown park.

The grant may also allow the city to bring back amenities recently deleted from the plan to cut costs.

“Maybe we can upgrade some of the materials we use, like more porous pavement,” Wierzbicki said. “And maybe we can squeeze in another bike lane where we didn’t have one before.”

Design work on the project will likely conclude next year. Construction is slated to begin in 2010.