Criticize proposed WSDOT design at four-way stop

By Don Nelson

Downtown business owners are asking the Winthrop Town Council to revisit a Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) plan for revising crosswalks and pedestrian approaches at the four-way stop on Riverside Avenue.

The planned revisions are part of a WSDOT project to repave about 2 miles of state Highway 20 — known as Riverside Avenue in downtown Winthrop — in spring 2017.

WSDOT will revamp the crosswalks and approaches to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The proposed design, which incorporates sloped ramps for wheelchair use, includes “bulbs” that extend out past the existing boardwalks and a bit into the roadways. “The bulb-outs allow for ramps to have the correct slopes to meet ADA without cutting into the existing boardwalks,” Town Planner Rocklynn Culp wrote in an earlier memo to the town council. “They also narrow the crosswalks, improving safety for all pedestrians.” The design addresses common complaints about pedestrian safety in the intersection, Culp said.

As part of the project, WSDOT will also improve stormwater drainage at the intersection, where water has sometimes backed up to form broad puddles.

At last week’s council meeting, Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe owner Doug Mohre implored the council to ask WSDOT to reconsider its crosswalk and “pad” designs. He said the “bulbs” would extend so far into the intersection that they would endanger pedestrians by putting them in the way of traffic.

Mohre said that downtown business owners had talked to WSDOT representatives and came away with the impression that the intersection design is a “done deal” unless the town raises the issue with the state agency.

No one is opposed to ADA compliance, Mohre said, but it can be achievable with alternate designs that take up less space and don’t extend so far into the street. He presented those designs to the council.

Mohre also showed the council a video of a large truck-and-trailer combination turning the corner in front of his business and rolling over the spot where a pedestrian would, theoretically, be safely standing. “It’s a very, very tight corner,” he said.

Mohre had sketched a chalk outline of the proposed “bulb” on the pavement in front of his business to demonstrate “how huge these things actually are.”

Aesthetic concerns

Despite heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic through the four-way intersection, Mohre said, he’s not aware of any injury-causing accidents in more than 20 years at Sheri’s.

Mohre also noted that the intersection “is one of the most-photographed corners in eastern Washington” and the proposed “bulbs” would be a distraction. “It would be a benefit to minimize them for as little impact as possible for the aesthetic of the town,” Mohre said.

“We would really appreciate it if the town would take a stand with us … and strongly ask the DOT to reconsider the design,” Mohre said.

John Lester, a longtime business owner in downtown Winthrop, said “I’m asking you guys [the council] to fix this now … so we don’t have to revisit it later.”

“‘We’ve gone too far’ is not an acceptable answer” from WSDOT, Lester added.

Council member Rick Northcott said he was not opposed to asking WSDOT to revisit the design, but added that he assumed the original plan was acceptable as proposed — and necessary. “The four-way stop is a nightmare,” he said. “It’s nerve-wracking for a lot of people.”

Culp, the town planner, said that conversations with WSDOT about the project indicate that the agency is willing to work with the town, but she suggested that the council “get their side of the issue.”

The council, and the public, will have a chance to do just that next week. On Wednesday (Aug. 17), WSDOT representatives will be at the Winthrop Barn to talk about the entire repaving project beginning at 6 p.m. They will then make a presentation to the Town Council at its regular 7 p.m. meeting.

David Gottula, president of the chamber of commerce, said earlier that WSDOT is aiming to complete the repaving project in April 2017, before the North Cascades Highway over Washington Pass typically opens for the summer, and before the annual ’49er Days celebration.

Right-of-way issue

In other business, the council learned about an apparent encroachment of private property into the street right-of-way at the end of Wister Way.

Town Public Works Director Rick Karro said that the encroachment has been an issue in the past but became more problematic as the town planned for a scheduled overlay and road repair project on Wister Way.

The issue, Karro said, is that a fence and several mature trees extend between 24 and 29 feet in to the town right-of-way

“The encroachment has caused us problems every winter since the fence was constructed,” Karro said in a memo to the council. “The property owner on the opposite side of the road has been magnanimous in allowing our past plowing methods to interfere with their property, but it cannot continue, especially in light of the coming road project.”

“We need to utilize everything we have [in the right-of-way]” for the road improvements, Karro told the council last week.

Town Clerk Michelle Gaines said that the property was recently purchased by Jane Gilbertsen, who was not aware of the right-of-way problem. Gilbertsen plans to pay for an independent survey of the property, Gaines said.

Council members asked why the town isn’t conducting its own survey. “Shouldn’t we be responsible for surveying it?” council member Rick Northcott asked. “If it were my property, you [Karro] would be surveying it.”

“It’s our responsibility to know where it [the right-of-way] is,” council member Mike Strulic said.

Karro said he thought a survey wasn’t necessary because the town could do the necessary paving work without using the entire right-of-way as long as the encroaching fence and trees are removed.

Karro said he only brought the issue to the council’s attention because he thought they might hear about it from town residents, and he wanted them to be fully informed.

“Backlash is a concern,” Karro said. “I’m trying to let you know.”