March 18 2013 12:00 AM

The city seeks input on redesigning Washington Avenue through REO Town

Thursday, March 10 — Lansing city officials say that in about two years, the stretch of Washington Avenue between Malcolm X Street and Barnes Avenue — through the heart of REO Town — will look a lot different than it does today.

The stretch of road is crumbling, but it’s also poised to be a main thoroughfare as the new Board of Water and Light cogeneration plant comes online, said Chad Gamble, director of the Public Service Department.

Though a design plan is in its infancy, the city has secured $1.18 million in federal funding, which pays for 80 percent of the project, Gamble said. The city will have to pay for the rest, or $605,000.

Gamble said a “vast majority” of those costs would come from “Act 51” dollars, which is money allocated to cities from the state Department of Transportation for road projects. The city generally receives between $10 million and $15 million a year in Act 51 money, he said, and planned projects are budgeted each fiscal year.

Gamble said he hopes the City Council will approve the project as part of Mayor Virg Bernero’s proposed fiscal year 2012 budget.

“I would like to think (they will),” Gamble said. “I think Council would certainly agree that leveraging (grant money) is in our best interest.”

Officials from the Public Service Department and designers involved with the project held the first of two public meetings Wednesday night at 1000 S. Washington Ave. The nearly two-hour long meeting attracted input from REO Town business owners and residents.

The project, which covers 3/4 of a mile from Malcolm X Street (formerly known as Main Street) to Barnes Avenue, is slated to begin around June 2012 and will take about four months to complete, said Dean Johnson, a city engineer. It’s also scheduled to start immediately after the Board of Water and Light completes its steam and water line projects affiliated with the new cogeneration plant.

“Most of this (project) is driven by the large co-generation facility,” Johnson said, adding that there are no actual design plans in place. “The intent is to let you help us take this information and go to the drafting boards. I think we can greatly improve this corridor.”

It will include curb and gutter improvements, a new surface, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramps at intersections and bicycle lanes. At Wednesday’s meeting, officials sought input from business owners and residents on potential aesthetics.

Ideas floated Wednesday include trees along the road, wider sidewalks, ample biking room, narrowing the road to three lanes, more crosswalks, easier access to the River Trail and diagonal parking. Business owners are being asked to submit information about traffic volumes they see and the kinds of deliveries made and at what times.

Though Dave Sheets, owner of Discount Dave’s Buy it Rite at 1115 S. Washington Ave., thinks the project is a good idea and that ultimately a better-looking corridor will benefit REO Town, he had concerns about how the decision was made to pave this particular stretch.

“There are a lot worse streets that need paving in the city,” Sheets said.

Other business owners were worried they might have to close down for construction.

Johnson said it was “very unlikely” that any businesses will have to close down during regular hours of operation during the project.

A second meeting is scheduled for March 23 at 6 p.m. City officials and landscape architects plan to present a formal list of ideas for the road.