City Manager Chris Workman answers questions about the streetscapes project during Thursday’s Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

After more than a decade of planning, designing, holding meetings, finalizing financing and frankly, dreaming of a safer and attractive downtown, Philomath will within the next couple of months launch into the long-awaited streetscapes project.

The city plans to celebrate the occasion with a groundbreaking ceremony at 3 p.m. Oct. 4 on the vacant lot at Main and 14th streets. Construction should be getting started in November for a nearly $16 million project that’s estimated to last 20 months.

Mayor Chas Jones and City Manager Chris Workman provided details of the work, which is formally known as the Downtown Safety and Streetscape Improvements Project, while taking the mic Thursday in front of the Philomath Area Chamber of Commerce.

Jones during a State of the City presentation said the project is about improving safety, revitalization, business development, infrastructure improvements, promoting tourism and downtown beautification. But with a chamber audience filled with business owners, specifics about what’s going to be happening took a front seat.

Workman answered questions for just over 32 minutes and they ranged from generalizations about the project area down to details such as how the Rotary Club will be anchoring American flags on holidays.

To start, the project area covers a stretch of Main Street and Applegate Street from 14th Street to Seventh Street. The bulk of the work relates to narrowing roads, creating more space for parking, widening sidewalks, installing pedestrian amenities and adding “bulb-outs” — not only for pedestrian safety purposes but such designs have been shown to slow down traffic.

The contractor selected for the project should be getting signed paperwork to the Oregon Department of Transportation by the end of the month, Workman said, and then the entities will get together for a meeting.

Mayor Chas Jones had positive comments about the state of the city: “I feel like we are on track and we’re doing amazing things in the city.” (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The proposed plan put forth by engineers was to start the project on the west end of Main Street and work their way east and then do the same thing on Applegate. Said Workman, “The contractor does have the ability to change that and get that approved in their contract negotiation.”

Workman stressed that such projects typically change and although the city contributed to the financing component, provided key input and its engineer will be on site doing checks, it is an ODOT operation.

From what Workman said he currently knows, the work will reportedly be done in one- or two-block stretches and up to three blocks in one location where it made sense. During the work, traffic will be reduced to one lane of travel.

“That’s kind of the pattern that has been set out,” Workman said. “We’ll know more later and as soon as we know, we’ll get that out there.”

The contract allows for day, night and weekend closures as needed but Workman’s not sure how that schedule will look. Notifications must be issued before any night and weekend work occurs — a detail that residents in the area will definitely be interested to know — and schedules will be adjusted during times of heavy traffic, such as Friday afternoons when people head to the coast and on Sunday evenings when they’re coming back.

Some work will also be done on 13th Street. Philomath recently acquired from Benton County a section between Main and Applegate and that has been added to the project. Using Corvallis Area Metropolitan Planning Organization funds, 13th will see sidewalk, parking and other improvements.

Elsewhere within the project, a two-way cycling route will be incorporated into the improvements on the south side of Applegate — an area where many bicyclists encounter challenges trying to cross the road. For separation, a short, raised curb with plastic dividers will separate the bike lanes from vehicular traffic.

“It’s going to be the first cycle track like that in our region, so all of our regional ODOT folks were pretty excited about trying something new that they’ve seen in other places,” Workman said. “That’ll be a nice solution for this little two-block area where right now it’s not very bike friendly.”

The city said it plans to provide information to the public in several ways, including the distribution of a “survival guide,” updates online and through a weekly email that people can sign up to receive.

“If you opt-in for those notifications, every week you’ll know where they’re at and where they’re going to be a week and two weeks out,” Workman said. “We just want to minimize surprises.”

Workman mentioned that ODOT is requesting the contractor to reach out to the community to let the public know what’s going on with the project, however, the city plans to take extra steps — such as those weekly notifications — to further disseminate information.

“Construction throws a lot of curveballs … we could hit a couple of dinosaur bones in here that throws the whole schedule off, right?” Workman said. “So the schedule is going to be flexible.”

Other than in a few specific areas on Applegate Street — such as where the bike lanes will go in — the two main roads will be reconstructed.

“For the most part, they will dig all the way down, replace the base and repave,” Workman said. “They’re going to get away from the hill of Main Street, level that out a little bit more, so you won’t have that big crown that we have right now.”

Workman took a moment to apologize in advance — large projects always involve something unexpected.

“We’re going to make mistakes … I’ll just ask for your forgiveness right now and your patience as we go through this,” he said. “This is a huge project, a once-in-a-lifetime project, a big undertaking, so just asking for your patience to help us get through it. We can work together on the problems.”

Jones hit on several points during his State of the City presentation and among other things lauded strong infrastructure, healthy economy, effective governance, great neighborhoods and a safe community. 

“From my perspective, the state of the city is really great … I feel like we are on track and we’re doing amazing things in the city,” Jones said.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.