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More expensive Tremont project proceeds

The Port Orchard City Council received an update about project to widen Tremont Street and install two roundabouts for traffic control on Tuesday night learning that it will be more expensive than previously thought.

“This project has been a difficult subject for some time,” said Public Works Director Mark Dorsey. “It has been plagued with a history of indecision and controversy. But I think it is on the right track now, and on its way to completion.”

Discussion about improving the roadway, which is a main access point to downtown, began in 2005. This included widening certain areas, acquiring right-of-ways, and installing signals.

This was further complicated and then resolved last year, when the council voted to construct two traffic circles in lieu of signals, in order to regulate the traffic flow from State Route 16 to the Bethel/Lund intersection.

Tuesday night, the design presented by Robert Fernandes of Seattle-based consultant BergerABAM included a request for an additional $228,237 in funding, which brings the pre-construction cost to just under $1 million. The city has already paid part of this cost, and Dorsey was also able to decrease its cost by $12,000.

The entire project cost is estimated to range between $14 million and $16 million, which is at least twice as much as was first proposed.

Aside from the elusive total, the project’s funding source is also undetermined.

This is not a problem, according to Dorsey, who said, “There are always federal funds available for this type of road construction projects. We just need to be qualified for them.”

The latest buzz word in municipal circles is “shovel-ready,” meaning that a project is ready to go and all preconditions have been satisfied.

The Tremont roundabouts aren’t there just yet, since environmental conditions need to be satisfied.

“We had to turn down $1.7 million in funding recently because we weren’t ready,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey predicts the project will be shovel-ready sometime in 2010 and take about two years to complete — which leads to the expected 2012 completion date that has been bandied about for the last year or so.

City Councilman Fred Olin said “there were some surprises” in the latest report, but added that he trusted Dorsey to provide the proper recommendations for the project’s completion.

One “surprise” is the inclusion of emergency traffic signals as part of the roundabout, since the choice between signals and a roundabout was hotly debated up to last summer’s final decision.

Traffic signals, it was then decided, would be more expensive and less effective for traffic control.

In response, Dorsey pointed out that the proposed signals would b e much simpler than standard signals. They will have a default setting of flashing amber, and change if the fire department (operating from the nearby Tremont Street station) needed to move emergency vehicles.

At that time, the lights would be set to accommodate the flow needed to move the fire trucks through rapidly and provide explicit instructions for those waiting in traffic.

“When faced with an emergency, many Americans tend to just stop everything and wait for instructions,” Dorsey said. “The signals will be controlled by the fire department and will tell people what they need to do.”

During non-emergency periods, the flashing amber will warn drivers to be cautious at the intersection, according to Dorsey.

While two roundabouts are to be constructed, the one at the intersection of Tremont and Pottery was the focus of Tuesday’s discussion. Since the last meeting, the plans have been changed in order to better accommodate emergency vehicles.

This includes changing the angle of how Tremont connects to the circle and widening the diameter of the roundabout itself.

Dorsey, who was appointed to head Public Works nearly a year ago, began working on this project on his first day — and started in the middle.

“This project wasn’t well-designed in the first place,” he said, “which is why the re-design phase has gone on for so long. This began as a simple widening project, and grew way beyond that. But if it had started out correctly, it wouldn’t have become this complicated.”

Editor’s note: Some details of the printed version of this story have been clarified and corrected.

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