by CHRIS ROGERS
Lewiston does not want more sidewalks — at least not along the cul-de-sac streets slated to be reconstructed next year. Last week, the Lewiston City Council listened to residents’ concerns, refined the city’s plans, and agreed to move forward on one of the city’s biggest infrastructure projects in years, an up-to-$5-million street, water, and sewer replacement project.
“We don’t need sidewalks,” Troy Leibfried told the City Council last Wednesday. At a public hearing on the street project, Leibfried handed the council a petition against adding sidewalks from his neighbors on Country Club Drive and First Street. He said adding sidewalks would eat up space in their already small yards, increase residents’ liability insurance bills, and, in Leibfried’s case, reduce parking space in his driveway. “It would really, to me, devalue my home,” he said of a preliminary proposal to add a sidewalk in front of his house.
“I support no sidewalks because I’m the one that does the shoveling,” Country Club Drive resident Joan Mayer told the city leaders.
“If you are with a baby stroller or a wheelchair, does not having a sidewalk cause a problem?” council member Larry Rupprecht asked the crowd.
“In a bigger city, I totally get it. There needs to be access for everyone,” Country Club Drive resident Jeremey Kingsley said. However, these little cul-de-sacs have such little traffic that sidewalks are not necessary, and tearing up yards to put them in would hurt property values, he said.
The council appeared to agree by consensus to cut new sidewalks from the project, and they asked Bolton & Menk engineer Bryan Holtz to come back with cost estimates for another potential design change: widening some of the narrowest streets.
Some of the streets slated for reconstruction are currently too narrow to accommodate both two travel lanes and parking on both sides. Jon Nienow pushed for widening those streets during the hearing, saying, “This is the perfect time to do something right. That street was built too narrow.”
Other men spoke up from the audience to say they opposed giving up yard space to the street. “I haven’t heard anyone say, ‘Boy, these streets aren’t wide enough,’ or, ‘Boy, these streets really need sidewalks.’ We hope the streets will be repaired. That’s what we’re looking for,” Merlyn Krenz stated.
In some places, widening the street could be accomplished by eliminating existing sidewalks and putting the new curb where the old sidewalk was. Holtz is expected to present cost estimates and various options for street widths at an upcoming council meeting.
The council also took an important step toward getting the project done: they officially hired Bolton & Menk to produce blueprints, specifications, and bidding documents at a cost of $300,000, which is included in the total project cost estimate. “It’s a big decision,” Holtz told the council. “If you’re not comfortable moving forward … we can table it,” he reminded them. They were comfortable. They moved forward.
The council members directed Holtz to prepare specifications for all eight of the proposed project elements — a total of $5 million. Those eight elements include reconstructing the street, water, and sewer lines on Rice Street, two sections of First Street, Benike Street, Second Street, and Country Club Drive, along with lift station repairs, and replacement of a portion of the water main near West Main Street. However, some of those projects will likely need to be scrapped. Council members said the city can likely only afford to spend $3 million. Even if the city wins a $640,000 state grant for street repair, Second Street reconstruction would likely need to be cut from the project.
Rupprecht said the city should still pay for engineering for all eight elements in hopes that the city might get lucky, get some low bids and be able to afford more elements than it expects, or so that the city could use those engineering documents to bid the projects in the future.
Jim Ziegler lives on Cedar Lane, and during the hearing, he wanted to know when his street would be repaired. “I wish I had good news for you,” Holtz responded. He said the city would not be able to afford to resurface Ziegler’s street until 2022.
For the upcoming project, Holtz said he plans to hold a meeting for affected property owners in January and another one before construction starts.