If there’s a poster child for a city street that needs work, that would be Waddell Way. At Lake Street, Waddell Way starts as a rough pothole-filled road that looks like the Ho Chi Minh Trail after a Vietnam War B-52 bomb run. A sign at the east end warns away drivers: “Not city maintained; travel at own risk.”
Still, when summer traffic backs up at the Lake Street light, even in its rough state Waddell Way offers a quick shortcut from Lake Street to a paved portion by the Homer Post Office and to the Sterling Highway. Drivers can go on the highway over to Heath Street, connecting to the Homer Public Library, the Kachemak Bay Campus and City Hall.
Last year, the city got a $1.4 million legislative grant to start one of its top-five capital improvement project priorities, an east-west transportation corridor that would provide alternative routes other than the Sterling Highway, or Bypass, and Pioneer Avenue.
Improving Waddell Way is the first phase of the plan.
A proposal to ask the Alaska Legislature to reappropriate some or all of that money to the $28 million Public Safety Building project has called into question if or when Waddell Way will be built.
For the past two years, a Public Safety Building has been No. 2 and Waddell Way or the East-West Transportation Corridor No. 5 on the city’s top-five capital improvement projects list.
The state grant will fund design, right-of-way acquisition and construction of Waddell Way. The east-west portion would connect Lake Street and Heath Street. A short north-south section would connect the street to the existing paved road that stops just past the post office.
That would work similar to Hazel Avenue and Poopdeck Street, which provides access from Heath Street to the library, Wells Fargo, Safeway and Petro Express gas station.
“I think everyone appreciates the value of the Hazel Avenue improvement,” said Public Works Director Carey Meyer. “It provides a back door to the businesses that everybody goes to. This would do the same thing, keep people from having to go on the highway.”
This week, the city started the first step in the project, with right-of-way talks between interim City Manager Marvin Yoder and Homer Electric Association, which owns land on either side of the current 30-foot wide right-of-way. The city needs another 30 feet of right-of-way to properly build the road, said Meyer. HEA owns land on the north and south sides of Waddell Way.
“That’s why the city has never maintained it,” he said. “It’s not a standard right-of-way width.”
The city also will start survey and geotechnical work this winter, about the first 1 percent of the design phase Meyer said. One stumbling block is getting access west from the corner where the post office and existing gravel road meet. There are two possibilities, one through HEA land meeting Heath Street at Bonanza Avenue and another through a lot with cabins to connect at Grubstake Avenue. That lot is for sale, and Meyer said the city could probably purchase it, sell the cabins and replat the land, creating a prime business lot on an east-west road that could be resold.
“I’m open for some discussion,” Meyer said “We’re going to take a look at both alternatives based on cost and functionality.”
Another possibility would be to upgrade just the existing rough portion if right-of-way issues become complicated to connect to Heath Street.
Those discussions could come to a halt, though, if the Homer City Council approves and the Legislature goes along with a request to reappropriate the $1.4 million for the Waddell Way project to the Public Safety Building. With a Homer Police Station that’s in dire need of replacement, a Public Safety Building also is a high priority, estimated to cost $28 million for a fire hall and cop shop or about $15 million for the police station. The Public Safety Committee has selected a site at the corner of Pioneer Avenue and the Sterling Highway now occupied by the Homer Education and Recreation Complex and a Public Works building.
In Resolution 15-004, the council proposes that the Legislature reappropriate the $1.4 million for design and construction of the Public Safety Building. That resolution was postponed, however, until Yoder could meet with legislators to probe the advisability of asking for a reappropriation in the current fiscal climate of declining oil revenues.
Yoder, also a member of the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, is in Juneau this week for ABC meetings.
Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, told the Homer News last month that seeking a reappropriation might not be wise.
“It’s quite risky to take money approved by the Legislature and say, ‘We don’t want to spend it on that. We want to spend it on something neither the Legislature nor the governor approved,’” Seaton said.
Resolution 15-004 also doesn’t address another issue: Reordering the CIP list or removing items from it. At a Homer City Council meeting in September to discuss its annual revisions of the CIP list, Homer Mayor Beth Wythe said under the council’s guidelines for updating its list, “The top five are the top five until they’re complete and then they have to be replaced with something else,” she said.
In his city manager’s report at Monday’s meeting, Yoder proposed a compromise: Reappropriate all but $200,000 of the $1.4 million Legislative grant to the Public Safety Building project, and use that $200,000 for the right-of-way survey and engineering portion of the project.
The city could then use Homer Accelerated Roads and Trails money to construct what Yoder called “a pioneer road” that would be paved at a later date. He wrote that the soils in the area require some time to compact before paving could proceed.
At Monday’s council meeting, Wythe said Yoder made that suggestion “to figure out how to make it palatable for both sides.”
The idea of reappropriating the Waddell Way funds has met with some blowback. At Monday’s meeting, council member Beau Burgess said he’d received several emails from citizens supporting Waddell Way.
“They felt it was important to continue with those efforts,” Burgess said. “That project made it onto our CIP list and was funded because there was public support for it.”
In public comments at the end of Monday’s meeting, Ted Schmidt said he supported moving ahead on Waddell Way and not reallocating the grant.
“I think that’s a very nice improvement to redirect some of the traffic and bottlenecks. We have the means to take care of that small section,” he said. “I don’t think you want to go to the state when we’re this short on funds and vacillating.”
Council member Bryan Zak said he was concerned about reallocating the funds.
“I’m not a gambler. Those funds are there. I don’t want to see the state of Alaska suck those funds away,” he said.
Resolution 15-004 was postponed until a March meeting and won’t be considered until then.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.