Ketchikan city officials have some concerns about the state Department of Transportation’s plans for reconfiguring traffic lanes on Front, Mill and Stedman streets. It was the main topic of Tuesday’s special noon City Council meeting.
Front, Mill and Stedman streets are part of the state highway, but also are part of the primary downtown corridor. Summer traffic is particularly busy in that area because of thousands of cruise ship passengers walking through town, and the related tour buses.
The City of Ketchikan recently received the state’s latest project design drawings for upgrades to those streets. DOT officials have proposed widening sidewalks by seven feet on much of Front Street, to accommodate pedestrian traffic. That would mean the removal of the center southbound lane on Front Street.
There would be a turn lane at the Mission Street intersection, with room for about four standard vehicles, and a designated left turn lane from Mill onto Bawden Street.
The plan calls for the removal of three parking spaces along that corridor.
During the special meeting, City Public Works Director Mark Hilson told the Council that the plan focuses on pedestrian access, which the city feels sacrifices vehicular access.
“In talking to DOT, according to their engineering calculations and design methodology, they feel there is little to no impact on vehicular movement through that area,” he said. “That’s not the public works’ department’s take on that – I’m just trying to present the information.”
“This is a state highway. This is the major access point for this entire community. It’s hard to imagine that they would make that statement,” said Council Member Dave Kiffer in response. “I cannot believe that someone who actually had looked at Tongass, who actually has seen – not just looked at a map but been here – would actually make that statement.”
Council Member Bob Sivertsen said there is a need for wider sidewalks, but agreed the design doesn’t take vehicle traffic into enough consideration. Council Member Mark Flora suggested that state officials still widen sidewalks, but not by seven feet.
City Mayor Lew Williams III recommended that the city’s objections be strongly worded.
The Council voted unanimously to object to the removal of the center lane on Front Street, and to recommend widening sidewalks by less than the proposed seven feet. The motion also included objections to many of the proposed sidewalk bulb-outs, which are corners that extend into the street somewhat, allowing pedestrians to better see and be seen by oncoming traffic. The city provides crossing guards during the summer, which Council members agreed take care of that issue.
City Manager Karl Amylon said he would have a draft objection letter available for Council review by Thursday’s special budget meeting. Comments are due by Friday.
The Council also talked about eventually limiting the number of cruise visitors allowed at one time, closing part of Mission Street to vehicle traffic during the summer season, and allowing tour buses on the Third Avenue Bypass to relieve congestion elsewhere. No action was taken on any of those items, but they were discussed as future options to consider.
In other matters, the Ketchikan City Council agreed Tuesday to direct city management to stop issuing parking tickets for the two weeks prior to Christmas.