Op-Ed

Civic Agenda: Bellingham invests in water quality, road safety

Floyd Elgin of Northwest Edison installs a new LED street light at the intersection of Broadway and Dupont streets in Bellingham, in December, 2015. Bellingham is changing out 3,600 streetlights from the current sodium lights to brighter, energy-saving LEDs.
Floyd Elgin of Northwest Edison installs a new LED street light at the intersection of Broadway and Dupont streets in Bellingham, in December, 2015. Bellingham is changing out 3,600 streetlights from the current sodium lights to brighter, energy-saving LEDs. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Some years, a lot of projects come due. The dishwasher breaks, you’ve got to replace old windows, the car needs repair. That’s true for the city of Bellingham as well. Several vital projects, including some decades in the making, are “coming due” even as repair projects pop up.

Bellingham Public Works handles complex and comprehensive tasks — from making sure our drinking water is clean and plentiful to maintaining streets, lights, roads and sewer mains. More than 250 operators, engineers and scientists work around the clock while also preparing our infrastructure to meet the needs of future generations.

City professionals are hard at work on that “to do” list.

After last year’s significant work, this year’s projects will be more modest. Public Works is honoring our legacies and strategic commitments to provide quality, responsive service as well as mobility options, a healthy environment, vibrant economy and clean, safe drinking water. And we continue to invest in safe infrastructure to support our families, community, environment and economy.

Environment

We have been working for years to reroute Squalicum Creek to improve water quality and fish habitat in that corridor. The reroute was necessary to protect salmon as they travelled through Bug Lake and Sunset Pond, shallow, man-made water bodies that absorbed solar heat which raised water temperature to an unsafe level. In addition to these environmental benefits, the Squalicum Creek project also enhanced travel on James Street and is a key piece of the Bay to Baker trail.

Transportation

Safety is always the priority in transportation projects. In the last year we completed projects to improve pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle safety on Ohio Street near Bellingham High School. And Alabama Street improvements include a reduction in the speed limit, improved pedestrian crossings on this busy arterial and added turn lanes and bicycle lanes. These improvements are consistent with the city’s adopted bike master plan.

Making our streets and bridges safe for commercial transportation helps support a vibrant and sustainable economy. That’s why rehabilitating the old bridges connecting Chestnut and Bay streets in 2015 was so important. The structural improvements made it possible to remove weight restrictions on the bridges so that large trucks can avoid our downtown core, and just in time for waterfront redevelopment work to begin.

Drinking Water

This fall, we break ground on an addition to our award-winning water treatment plant in Whatcom Falls Park. This addition will help us keep our water safe into the future. While national media focuses on unsafe drinking water in Flint, Michigan, Bellingham is using leading edge technology and science to keep our drinking water free of contaminants.

In addition to delivering some of the nation’s cleanest drinking water, we just won the regional American Water Works Association annual taste test, we are actively protecting the watershed for the long-term. Public Works has several projects to eliminate or mitigate sources of phosphorus in storm water runoff, because too much phosphorus (which develops both naturally in leaves and grass as well as from detergents and fertilizer) can harm lake health.

What’s new?

LEDs have replaced traditional streetlights all over Bellingham for immediate and long-term benefits. Not only is it easier to see while walking or driving at night, the city is saving $240,000 a year while improving efficiency and reducing the carbon footprint.

Biking is better these days. We’ve been busy delivering what citizens asked for in their bicycle master plan, with protected bike lanes, shared lane markings and green “bike boxes” to give cyclists a safe space on our streets.

Meanwhile Public Works continues annual maintenance and replacement on the city’s 400 miles of water lines, 300 sewer main replacements and street and sidewalk repairs.

So as you take a drink from your tap, travel through town, tour our urban creek corridors or Bellingham Bay, you can see that city professionals are hard at work on that “to do” list. Together we’re keeping Bellingham’s water clean and safe; ensuring safe streets for people, bikes and motor vehicles; and protecting and preserving our natural resources now and for decades to come.

This is one of a series of monthly Civic Agenda reports The Bellingham Herald invited Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville to provide to share updates about City of Bellingham issues and projects. She invites citizens to contact her at 360-778-8100 or mayorsoffice@cob.org.

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