By Terri Harber
Work started recently to bury the utility lines under Resort Street and will continue into summer.
"Everyone is glad to have this project under way," said Michelle Owen, the city's public works director. "The property owners have been fabulous."
However, she also warned that "things are going to get worse before they get better."
The utility burying is part of a larger project to rebuild Resort Street between Auburn Avenue and Campbell Street, a project years in the making.
But it's a bumpy road with many gravel-filled holes and occasional clouds of dust right now.
Washington Street was closed Friday, a day chosen because there's no school that day and no conflict with buses.
The trench where the utility lines are buried was dug Friday at the Washington-Resort intersection.
Utility trench digging will continue from Broadway north to Campbell on the east side. And mason work begins on the sidewalk vaults on the west side between Auburn and Court Street this week.
The work requires several side streets be closed.
And trash receptacles and roll carts will need to be accessed from side streets rather than from Resort.
"The large receptacles and cardboard recycling bins have been marked and will be moved by Baker Sanitary on Monday morning," the public works department wrote in its weekly Resort Report on Friday.
Experts say there are advantages to having utility lines underground, especially by keeping the lines out of the way of storms so the services can continue working properly.
Discussion about requiring utility providers in the United States to bury utilities was renewed last year by the widespread damage caused in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York by Superstorm Sandy.
But the main reason for hiding utilities on Resort Street is aesthetic. Getting the utility lines undergroundis integral to creating a "park-like"atmosphere downtown from Main Street to the Powder River, said Councilor Dennis Dorrah in 2011.
There will be benches, bicycle racks, trees and pedestrian lighting. Main Street businesses would have the ability to offer second storefronts along Resort.
The street won't remain, as Councilor Clair Button referred to it during the same 2011 meeting, "a de facto alleyway."
Improving Resort is an important project within the city's overall effort to draw more people downtown to spend money.
The construction of Central Park, between Resort Street and the Powder River, also is a significant part of this downtown improvement plan.
City leaders envision the park as a site for a variety of community attractions as well as an alternative to the busy Geiser-Pollman Park.
Paying for it
Funding for the Resort upgrade comes mostly from money provided through the Jobs and Transportation Act (JTA).
The low bid of $3.427 million for the entire Resort Street project was submitted by Mike Becker General Contractor, Inc., in La Grande. The company was awarded the job in March.
Other money for utility work on Resort will come from local improvement district assessments on Resort Street properties, and price breaks on utility line relocations provided by the utility companies.
For example, Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative was going to charge the city nearly $317,000. OTEC is reducing the amount by $130,000.
The initial cost for utility line relocations was estimated to exceed $1 million but is now closer to $900,000.
Nearly $295,000 of that will come from the property owners along Resort Street who will pay a $70 per front foot assessment through the local improvement district.
The JTA money can't be used for relocating the utility lines but a portion will be used to resolve connection conflicts that have arisen during the redesign of the street: an estimated $145,000, Owen said.
The city will have to come up with the remainder of the line relocation budget, roughly $85,600 - slightly more than the 10 percent contingency fund that would help pay for unforeseen project expenses.
And if something unforeseen occurs the city would have to pay that much extra: a total of nearly $168,000.
It has already contributed $150,000 toward the utility relocation from this year's street fund.
How it's going to be done
The city's contractor, Becker, digs the trenches and the utility companies will come in and lay down their own lines and conduits.
Electrical lines need to be the deepest in the ground, Owen said.
The law also requires that other steps be taken, including ensuring that certain lines are an adequate distance apart from the electrical lines and other conduits, such as telephone and fiber optic.
Some temporary power turnoffs to properties will be necessary, but Owen said that those events will be carefully minimized until the overhead systems are dismantled.
The street work itself on Resort is scheduled to begin in July once the utility lines are in place.
The street and sidewalk construction should be complete at the end by October - if conditions allow, Owen said.
Businesses will remain accessible along Resort with few exceptions. People driving along the street can pull in to most businesses but need to keep a watchful eye on construction-related goings-on.
Drivers also should get used to Resort being narrower as the project progresses. Expect only two 11 foot-wide travel lanes until the work is finished.
And people traveling on foot should expect to find ripped-up sidewalks.
The Resort Report will be updated weekly so residents can see whether they need to modify their travel in the project area. It's on the city's website: www.bakercity.com. Look to the top right hand to click on the page link.
A Facebook page also is planned.