Richland set to repave, narrow Lee Boulevard

RICHLAND — While most road projects seem to be about carrying more traffic, Richland is redesigning Lee Boulevard to carry less.

The city will start repaving the boulevard from Jadwin Avenue to Thayer Drive once school lets out in June, and will take the five-lane road down to three.

Steve Stairs, the city’s transportation engineer, said consultants told the city about five years ago that Lee Boulevard is overbuilt for the amount of traffic it gets, even when accounting for growth.

“We don’t really need five lanes worth of roadway there,” Stairs said.

So when the road is repaved this summer, those two outer lanes will be converted to bike lanes and on-street parking similar to what the city has done on Stevens Drive and Van Giesen Street.

“People will still be able to move. Maybe not at 35 mph, but we don’t want them to,” Stairs said. “This is a downtown area and we want to encourage bike and pedestrian movements.”

He estimated based on the road construction that the paving on the road is about 50 years old — probably original to when it was built.

The project is expected to cost about $900,000, with $200,000 coming from the federal government. The rest will come from the city’s street overlay budget.

In addition to the road repaving, the project will include resurfacing the city parking lot at Lee and Jadwin, and extending curbs at some of the busier intersections to give pedestrians shorter distances to cross — similar to the way the curbs jut out at Knight Street and Jadwin Avenue by the federal building.

The city also will plant trees and shrubs to give the boulevard a greener, more pleasant look.

“We want to spruce it up and make it a nicer place to be,” Stairs said.

Work is expected to be finished before school starts in late August.

Dave Acton, general manager for Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery on Lee Boulevard, said he had some concerns about the project but likes the sound of it after talking with Stairs.

“The center turn lane was my one concern. I thought they wouldn’t have one,” he said. “If they didn’t, it would be a big problem. ... People would be stopping and blocking traffic. Since they kept the center turn lane in, I am OK with what they’re doing with the road.”

Acton expects customers to have some headaches getting into the eatery’s parking lot during construction, but he shrugged off potential problems.

“That’s always going to be the case. There’s nothing you can do,” he said. “It is part of the improvement, the repaving.”

He thinks the payoff will be worth it once the area is made more attractive.

“The only issue I might run into is where they plant the trees,” Acton said. “I will work that out with them so they put it in an appropriate place so it doesn’t block my sign.”

Some of the city’s followers on Facebook were less enthusiastic about the project, mostly worrying that the city would install a roundabout, and that reducing the lanes of traffic will create congestion.

Stairs said there are no roundabouts planned, and the city is confident an even-narrower Lee Boulevard can handle the traffic.

Richland residents will have an opportunity to give feedback face to face at an open house from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Carmichael Middle School, 620 Thayer Drive.

-- Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; mdupler@tricityherald.com