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Council weighs changes to planned capital improvements

  • Written by Madeline Coats

With the economic impact of COVID-19 still uncertain, Council member Chuck Price suggested the city of Woodinville increases the number of capital improvement projects per biennium as a tool for financial recovery. 

Due to the sheer magnitude and broad implications of the proposal, the council voted 4-3 against Price's motion during a virtual meeting on May 5.

“I don’t feel comfortable asking staff to identify possible projects to spend money or time on right now when it could hinder our ability to set priorities,” Mayor Elaine Cook said.

Capital improvement projects are long-term, costly investments for city streets, parks, facilities, surface water and property acquisition. The funding fluctuates annually and is budgeted every two years with a six-year forecast.

“There is a lot of work that goes into a project before any dirt starts flying,” City Manager Brandon Buchanan said. “Some projects can go quickly through these steps and others linger.”

The life cycle of a capital improvement project begins with a feasibility evaluation, preliminary engineering, surveying and utility coordination. The next step focuses on studies, ranging from environmental and geotechnical to traffic and drainage. Thereafter, the focus is on land acquisition and permitting from a federal, state and local level. The final design, bids and construction are then completed before final acceptance by the city council.

The 2021-26 planning process began with public participation from February to March in an effort to gather ideas and suggestions from the community. Buchanan said March through April was spent reviewing submissions and prioritizing projects. 

Currently, city staff is working to create an initial draft plan with funding estimates and recommended projects. Buchanan said the draft project list will be presented to the council, on May 19.

June through September will be focused on receiving feedback for modifications and opening a public comment period to gather opinions from the community. Council will adopt the final six-year plan and allocate funding for the next two years sometime between October and December. 

Over the past decade, Buchanan said roughly $52 million was spent on capital improvement projects. Each biennium averages $9.4 million on projects, with a low of $4.4 million and a high of $15 million.

He said there has been a 100% increase in budgeted capital improvement projects from 2007-08 to 2019-20. From 2007-14, the biannual average was 18 projects. From 2015-20, the number of projects increased to 28.

Budgeted projects for the 2019-20 biennium include 10 street and sidewalk improvements, seven park projects, four surface water updates, five facility renovations, and two property acquisitions. The 28 projects total roughly $28.3 million for the two-year period.

Thus far, 2019 completed projects include the Sammamish River Bridge, City Hall facility maintenance, the urban parkway on Northeast 171st Street and various arterial street overlays. 

“What we’ve done in the past and what we are continuing to do this year is lump both the transportation, which mainly means street projects, in with the overall CIP planning process,” said Kevin O’Neill, assistant to the city manager. 

Ongoing construction projects range from turf replacement at the Woodinville Sports Fields to trellis rehabilitation at Wilmot Park and continued work in the Schoolhouse District. Scoping and design projects cover intersection improvements, Garden Way design and construction, trestle widening and replacement on State Route 202, updates to pedestrian safety and multiple studies around town.

Buchanan said about 68% of projects have been completed for the two-year CIP, while about one-third of the projects will be deferred to a later time. Deferred projects are likely a result of funding availability, staff resources, or delays, he added. 

“We often have some on the list that, for a variety of reasons, are not able to be accomplished in two years,” he said. “There are countless reasons, or landmines, that a project could run into to delay a project.”

Current deferred street projects involve several overlays, corridor improvements, traffic enhancements and a new sidewalk. Additional deferred tasks include culvert removal at Little Bear Creek, ditch restoration on Woodinville-Snohomish Road, pedestrian enhancements at Wilmot Gateway Park and a boat launch at Wilmot Gateway Park, among other projects. 

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