The yellowed streets are where the downtown street scaping would begin, as the city has a drainage already scheduled for those streets. Halff Associates images.
By SEAN BATURA
San Marcos City Councilmembers have committed more than half a million dollars to plan a face-lift for a portion of downtown San Marcos, though the construction phase of the project will not actually begin unless more funding is appropriated for next fiscal year.
The downtown streetscape plan, unveiled by city officials and consultants earlier this month, includes a 30 percent reduction in parking spaces, more trees, wider sidewalks, and the potential for North LBJ Drive and North Guadalupe Street to be transformed into two-way streets.
A portion of the streetscaping plan that involves Hutchison Street and western parts of North LBJ Drive will get a head start due to a drainage project. City officials said it wouldn’t make sense to do the drainage project first, then go back and tear up the street again for the streetscaping project, so both of those projects will be carried out simultaneously.
Halff Associates performed a traffic study and is working on another for the streetscape work. Halff has two work authorizations totaling $137,579 for the studies.
“The North LBJ and East Hutchison drainage and roadway improvements project will become the model for a new pedestrian-friendly downtown,” said Halff Associates Downtown Streetscape Senior Study Project Manager Mary Mazzei. “The project is focusing on improving the quality of pedestrian elements, bringing existing sidewalks into compliance with (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements, focusing on the details which make sidewalks safe and … pedestrian elements including shade, textured pavements, and lighting.”
The project area encompasses a contiguous stretch of road linking East Hutchison Street between C.M. Allen Parkway and North LBJ Drive, LBJ Drive between University Drive and East Hutchison Street, and University Drive between North LBJ Drive and North Guadalupe Street.
City officials do not plan on transforming LBJ Drive and Guadalupe Street into two-way roads, thereby creating two-way traffic all around the downtown square, but they may implement the change if they complete a state-mandated traffic analysis and find most resident feedback to be supportive.
City officials and Halff Associates sponsored public meetings late last year, administering surveys that offered two streetscape concepts, both of which called for wider sidewalks, more trees, fewer parking spaces, specialty crosswalk paving, new trashcans and benches, and more pedestrian-friendly light poles on the aforementioned stretch of road.
Mazzei told city councilmembers last week that survey participants “clearly favored” a concept calling for a gateway feature to mark the beginning of East Hutchison Street at C.M. Allen Parkway. The other concept did not specify a gateway feature. Both concepts specified trees or enclosed plant beds extending into the road at crosswalk points to establish smaller cross-street walking distances.
The less-favored concept specified parallel parking only in the project area and trees planted in the middle of sidewalks, eliminating 18 parking spaces. The sidewalks would have been about seven feet wide on either side of the central tree trunks. The favored concept, as presented to participants last November, included a reduction in available parking of about 12 spaces.
A new plan, presented this month, calls for a reduction of 27 parking spaces in the project area.
Neither concept included bike lanes. Mazzei said the width of the streets in the project area preclude bike lanes, the she said bikes will be able to share lanes with automobiles because the lanes will be wide and the traffic speeds slow. Mazzei also proposed North Edward Gary as a safe path for cyclists to access downtown.
The new plan calls for North LBJ Drive to remain a three-lane, one-way road with angled parking remaining on the East side and parallel parking on the west side. The plan specifies sidewalks on both sides of North LBJ Drive of slightly more than 10 feet wide.
University Drive would remain a four-lane, undivided roadway with eight-foot sidewalks on each side. East Hutchison Street would remain a two-lane road with angled parking on the north side and parallel parking on the south side. The plan calls for 10-foot-wide sidewalks on the north side of East Hutchison Street and 18-foot-wide sidewalks on the road’s south side. Other features specified by the plan include trees or enclosed plant beds extending into roads at crosswalk points to allow for smaller cross-street walking distances, and intersections with special pavement treatments.
Mazzei said the current plan specifies one-way alleys in the project area to save additional parking space and to prevent head-on collisions. Mazzei said the city will bury overhead lines in the project area because survey respondents found they detracted from the beauty of downtown. Mazzei said moving the overhead electrical lines underground may cost the city $3.1 million. No funding is available this year for moving the power lines.
City councilmembers authorized $269,858 in additional funds last week to HNTB Corporation to design street reconstruction and streetscape portions of the project, and to include the plans in the drainage improvement scheme, which may take nine months.
The city’s current contract with HNTB specifies a not-to-exceed amount of $469,858, which includes surveying, geotechnical investigation, preliminary engineering analysis and recommendations, final design, and construction services for street reconstruction, streetscape improvements, sidewalk improvements, and drainage improvements on East Hutchison Street, North LBJ Drive, University Drive, Guadalupe Street, Pat Garrison Street, and Fredericksburg Street downtown.
Mazzei said that until HNTB finalizes its designs, the total cost of the streetscape improvements will not be known, though she said the work may total about $800,000.
The council directed staff and the Halff Associates to formulate cost estimates for the project, including an extension of the reconstruction work on the stretch of roadway between North LBJ Drive and East Hutchison Street, which, said San Marcos Councilmember John Thomaides, said is “in terrible condition.”
Said San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, “I think we’re all in agreement that this is what we’ve been looking forward to for many, many decades.”
Above and beneath are computer-generated images of Hutchison Street, LBJ Drive and their intersection once a planned streetscaping is complete. Half Associates images.
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