Work will begin this summer on connecting two downtown streets on the University of Washington Tacoma campus to make it easier for people to walk and bike safely.
Beginning in July, construction crews will alter the alignments of Jefferson Avenue and South 17th Street to make a four-way intersection. Crews also will add a bike lane, crosswalks, expanded sidewalks, improved street lights and back-in parking.
“As it is now, there is no standard walking path for people to cross these streets. People go between the diagonally parked cars, anyway they can, and cross,” Dave Leonard, the UWT’s environmental health and safety director who is overseeing the project, said Thursday.
The school is paying for the $1.25 million project, Leonard said, though the city of Tacoma has led the project work since it involves city streets. Work is scheduled to begin in July and end in the fall. The city of Tacoma also plans to use the opportunity to install a large stormwater pipe along Jefferson Avenue for future use, Leonard said, as a way to avoid tearing up the street a second time.
The area will remain open to cars and people during construction.
UWT identified the intersection as one of the top three areas of safety concern on campus, Leonard said. Students, faculty and staff have long complained about it. Though Leonard knew of no accidents in the area, school leadership wanted to fix it.
“More pedestrians are inevitable,” school spokesman Mike Wark said, ticking off some the reasons: A new YMCA on campus, just a block up the hill on South 17th Street; a new wing on the Tacoma Art Museum, just a block down the hill, and the coming Prairie Line trail running into South 17th and crossing Pacific Avenue.
The project will result in a net loss of about 10 parking spaces once construction is done.
“It’s too bad we’re losing 10 parking spots,” said Jack McQuade, a co-owner of The Swiss, whose entrance will face one end of the construction zone on Jefferson Avenue. He was heartened that by improving the street and keeping it open, rather than closing it permanently, the school is staying true to being an urban campus.
Though the school and the city began planning the project at least a year ago, news of the project was a surprise to McQuade and Claire Talbert, the general manager of the Old Spaghetti Factory on Jefferson Avenue. That restaurant will be most heavily affected by the work.
Wark said the school’s initial plan involved only the intersection of Jefferson and South 17th, so it advised businesses in that area. The project area expanded up Jefferson when the city decided to do some stormwater work at the same time, and that’s when the project came closer to the Old Spaghetti Factory and The Swiss. Wark said he couldn’t speak to what outreach the city has done.
City of Tacoma officials could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.