City transportation leaders last month approved more than $4.9 million for new sidewalks and bicycle lanes, and similar projects, for 2015 and 2016.
The Transportation Benefit District board, comprised of City Council members, on Nov. 24 approved a project list guided by two master plans: the pedestrian plan, approved in 2012, and the bicycle plan, approved two months ago.
Some of the bicyclist- and pedestrian-friendly improvements near Alabama were lower on the priority list but will happen next year because the work could be combined with the road project to improve efficiency.
“It just made sense to go in and do all of these, all at once. It really does allow us to save money on these projects,” city Transportation Planner Chris Comeau told the benefit district board on Nov. 24.
Plans to spend more than $1 million on new sidewalks in the Birchwood neighborhood also were moved up the 20-year priority list, to 2016, after discussions between neighborhood representatives and the city about how to reduce vagrancy. The city hopes to receive a $900,000 state grant for that work, Comeau said.
Improvements at Mill Avenue and 24th Street were approved for 2016 to coincide with the expansion of Happy Valley Elementary School. The rebuilt school is scheduled to open in fall 2016, Comeau said.
The benefit district board approved up to $225,000 on Nov. 10 to help pay for construction along East Bellis Fair Parkway to move a Whatcom Transportation Authority bus stop. The total project is estimated to cost $450,000, and WTA will pay the rest. The transit agency approached Bellis Fair mall officials, but they will not contribute money to the project, said Rick Nicholson, WTA director of service development.
The mall will lose 40 parking spaces to make room for a new stop, and those spaces have a cash value to the mall, Nicholson told the benefit district board on Nov. 10.
The benefit district is funded by a 0.2 percent sales tax in the city, approved by voters in 2010 and set to expire after 10 years. The tax adds 20 cents to the cost of a $100 purchase in Bellingham. It brings in more than $4.5 million a year that is divided roughly equally among WTA, pedestrian and bicycle projects, and road resurfacing. The city also uses other sources to pay for the benefit district projects, including grants and fees charged to developers.
Projects already completed with benefit district money include the 2012 resurfacing of the Northwest, Elm and Dupont Street corridor into the downtown, and a sidewalk along Bill McDonald Parkway in 2013.