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City Council discusses safety improvements project at 1st and Main

Project diagram for safety improvements at 1st Avenue and Main Street (June 11, 2019). Source: City of Ferndale

FERNDALE, Wash. — An agenda item on last Monday night’s City Council regular meeting was a discussion and vote to award a contract for the 1st Avenue and Main Street intersection improvement project, which would reconfigure the existing pedestrian crossings at the intersection. It ended up involving a detailed review and rehashing of decisions beginning a few years back that ultimately led to the removal of the intersection’s electronic traffic signals.

Public Works Director Kevin Renz provided a detailed timeline of discussions and decisions going back to 2016 when they began looking at the signalization hardware along the Main Street corridor. The following is based on Renz’s presentation and includes additional information.

  • April 2016 – began looking at what signalization hardware was being used and what capabilities were available
  • May 2016 – inventory and options assessment completed by Transpo Group (PDF file)
    – optimizing signal timing could be completed for $10,000 to $20,000
    – modifications to loop detection and cabinets could be completed for approximately $25,000
    – new cabinets, controllers, and communication hardware for synchronized signals were estimated at around $650,000
  • April 2017 – Renz met with then City Administrator Greg Young and the administrative decision was made to turn off the signals at 1st and Main.
  • Transpo Group, transportation engineers hired by the city, conducted a traffic survey which determined traffic volumes and other variables measured by Transpo at 1st Avenue and Main Street did not warrant a signal. Implementing a signal where adequate warrants do not exist creates a potential liability for the city in the event of a crash at that intersection. As a result, reinstallation of the lights would therefore be problematic.
  • Bellingham crews changed the traffic signal timings to provide longer green lights for cross-traffic on 4th Avenue and 3rd Avenue.
  • In late 2017, a traffic survey was done while school was in session and no major construction projects were being done.
  • April 2018 – Transpo presented reports to council based on the traffic data collected from the survey. It showed that eastbound traffic was moving 4 seconds quicker (67 seconds vs 71 seconds) as a result of the changes.
  • Late 2018 Transpo began working on improvements design based on council discussions indicating need for pedestrian safety and business access improvements.

Renz then explained the 1st Avenue and Main Street intersection improvement project included replacing the left turn lanes on both Main Street legs of the intersection with 2-way left turn lanes. The “suicide lanes,” as Renz referred to them, would be able to be used by drivers turning onto Main Street from 1st Avenue, providing a means to turn left onto Main Street and then wait for a break in same-direction traffic to safely merge into the through traffic lane.

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The project will also remove the standards and cross arms that held the traffic signals as well as the signal hardware cabinets. It will also remove the pavement striping denoting the east cross walk, replace the sidewalks and ramps leading to it and improve pedestrian visibility with signs and a future pedestrian-operated rapid-flashing beacon system (to be installed by Puget Sound Energy as a separate project) on the cross walk on the west side of the intersection.

The project had been put out to bid and only 1 bid was received. It was from Sail Electric, Inc. for $94,072. Council was being asked to decide whether to award the bid.

After some discussion about how the city ended up at this point and complaints from some councilmembers about them and the public not being communicated with during the decision-making processes, the vote was 5 to 2 to approve awarding the contract to Sail Electric with Councilmembers Greg Hansen and Carol Bersch opposed.

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