WINCHESTER — Pedestrians must walk along a narrow shoulder as they make their way along Highway 99 toward Amacher Park or nearby businesses while semi trucks and cars whiz past on their way to the Winchester Bridge and points north.
This is a busy stretch, used by drivers, cyclists and pedestrians traveling from houses and mobile home parks to businesses like Log Cabin Grocery or the Del Rey Cafe. It’s also an arterial street, meaning there’s quite a bit of traffic here.
Between Pleasant Street and Amacher Park, Highway 99 has no sidewalks, and not enough room for bicyclists to travel safely.
The whole section of road needs a full reconstruction, said Douglas County Public Works Engineering Division Manager Josh Heacock, and it’s about to get one.
The county plans to spend about $7.8 million to get the work done. The project will go out to bid this fall, once a final engineer’s estimate is in place, and the county hopes the construction will begin in winter of 2019. Heacock said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the work can be completed in one calendar year.
The renovations include replacing the road, adding 6-foot bicycle lanes on both sides, and building a sidewalk running along the east side of the road, allowing pedestrians easy access to most businesses in the area. There won’t be a sidewalk on the west side, which is bounded by a rail line.
Two small, obsolete bridges going over creeks — one near Del Rey Cafe and the other near Umpqua Sheet Metal’s driveway — will be replaced. Street lighting will also be added. New drainage will be built to prevent water on the roadway.
The renovations will end just before the Winchester Bridge, and will bring the stretch of road up to the standard of that bridge. The Winchester Bridge improvements were completed in 2008.
Heacock said during construction, drivers will face temporary delays throughout. Those will range between five minutes wait to navigating reduced lane widths. During the bridge replacements, temporary closures with detours may be necessary.
Heacock said considerable planning and budgeting have gone into this project, and he believes the renovations will serve the community well.
“I’m very excited really to see this thing come to fruition after all these years,” Heacock said.
But Robin Shoufler, owner of Del Rey Cafe, is not so excited. She fears a year, or two, of construction will cost her a lot of business, especially if the roadway closes altogether during the repairs. She believes she may have to lay off a third or more of her 15-person staff because of it.
She’s also worried because the initial plans call for her to lose her driveway entrance directly off Highway 99. Instead, she said, her customers will have to access the restaurant from Page Street. So will delivery trucks, which she said need both driveways. Without them, the trucks will be forced to park on Page Street blocking traffic because they won’t be able to turn around in the lot.
She said most of the foot traffic in the area is from homeless people rather than potential customers, and not many people bicycle in the area, so the improvements won’t do anything to help the local businesses.
“I don’t honestly see a lot of good coming out of it,” Shoufler said. “It just doesn’t benefit any of us out there.”
But for Jared Schricker, who was walking alongside the highway Thursday afternoon carrying a raft toward Amacher Park, the renovations seemed like a good idea.
“It would be nice to have more space to walk,” he said.