By Oliver Lazenby
Blaine City Council made a middle-of-the-road decision on the future of the road leading to Blaine Pier at its April 11 meeting.
In a unanimous vote, council directed city staff to pursue design and construction of a single-lane road that would restore vehicle access to the pier. That was one of four options and a compromise choice between a two-lane road and path that would have only allowed pedestrians and bicycles out to the pier.
“For me it’s not too hard a decision. We’ve always been able to go to the end of the dock,” council member Charlie Hawkins said. “If you make it available for handicap access or drop-off, it will get used. The way it is now it won’t even come close to being used as much.”
The city closed the road in April 2014 due to structural damage, but the bulkhead was crumbling in the mid 1990s, said Sylvia Goodwin, Port of Bellingham planning and development director.
A contractor estimated that the single- lane road would cost either $2.7 million or $3.1 million, depending on whether rip rap or a bulkhead is used under the road, a point that will be decided later in the design process.
That’s a lot of money, but the Blaine Park and Cemetery Board in its recommendation to council pointed out that the road repair would be expensive regardless of which option council picked.
The cheapest option, a bike and pedestrian path on top of rip rap, would cost $2.5 million. The most expensive alternate called for a full two-lane road and would cost an estimated $3.6 million.
The project will repair 1,200 feet of road between the playground and the pier, but the alternatives presented to council are identical except for the approximately 400 feet to the end of the pier.
The Port of Bellingham and the city of Blaine are working together to get state and federal grant money for the project and will both contribute money to the repairs.
Michael Jones, city community development director, said the carless option would likely be cheaper than the contractor’s estimate. The estimate didn’t take into account that asphalt could be used instead of stamped concrete, the preferred material for the options that allow car access.
I don’t want to put a number on it, but that would make a pretty substantial difference,” Jones said.
The Port of Bellingham, Blaine Park and Cemetery Board and city staff all made different recommendations to the council. The port favored a one-lane road on rip rap, the park and cemetery board wanted a two-lane road and city staff recommended a bike and pedestrian path.
City staff recommended the cheapest option because shelling out an extra $200,000 to $600,000 or more for 400 feet of road means that money won’t be available for other public
Also, cars parked on the wooden pier will drip toxic chemicals into the harbor, which, in addition to the environmental cost, will make the project harder to permit, Jones said. The cheapest option would also be cheapest to maintain in the long run, he said.
“Generally, the larger and more used a facility is the more it costs to maintain,” Jones said.
Council’s vote ran in opposition to public opinion on the project. Of the 108 people who responded to the city’s request for feedback – either through an online survey, comment card, or letter – 60 voted for bicycle and pedestrian-only access.
The next closest option, a full two-lane road, got 22 votes. Fifteen people voted for the council’s choice of building a one-lane road.
Public commenter Paula Smith pointed out at the meeting that public outreach drew little response and said people she has spoken with, especially older fisherman, want vehicle access to the pier.
The city held several public meetings on the project and city staff felt that response to public outreach was decent, Jones said.
“That is actually quite a bit more public comment then we typically receive on a project like this,” he said. “At the same time, I fully understand council’s desire to allow cars. The pier will be accessible to the most users that way.”
(costs are estimates):
Blaine City Council looked at the following options for repairing the end of Marine Drive before directing city staff to pursue Option 3, a single-lane road to the pier. The substrate material – rip rap or bulkhead – will be decided later.
Option 1: Full two-lane road – $3.6 million.
Option 2: Slightly narrower two-lane road – $3.4 million.
Option 3a: Single-lane road with bulkhead – $3.1 million
Option 3b: Single-lane road with rip rap – $2.7 million
Option 4a: Bike and pedestrian promenade with bulkhead: $3.1 million*
Option 4b: Bike and pedestrian promenade with bulkhead $2.5 million. The cost for a bike and pedestrian-only path could be substantially cheaper, since the estimate didn’t take into account that different pavement could be used, Michael Jones said.