Batavia likely to postpone streetscape work on Houston Street
A major spruce-up of Houston Street in downtown Batavia will likely be postponed even longer, due to concerns about cash flow and work slated for next year on Wilson Street.
The community development committee voted unanimously Monday to remove Houston, from Batavia Avenue to Island Avenue, from next year's streetscape project.
It has already been postponed once; it was supposed to be done this year. The plan calls for rebuilding the bumpy street, putting in bike lanes and adding a sidewalk on the north side. It would tie in, aesthetically, with similar work that was done on North River Street this summer and work slated to be done next year on Wilson Street and on Batavia Avenue after that.
The idea is to create an attractive downtown that encourages pedestrian and bicycle traffic as well.
But the city's administrators asked for permission to put it off. The streetscape project is largely to be paid out of property taxes collected in a downtown tax increment financing district. Doing the streetscape work on the original timetable could put the TIF fund $1.4 million in the red next year, even with transferring about $1 million in from the city's general fund, according to a report form City Administrator Bill McGrath.
Secondly, city staff members have come to realize that handling two big street construction projects in one year would be difficult.
Houston would have to be closed for much of its work, exacerbating traffic on Wilson during its streetscape work.
"I can't even imagine what a fiasco that would be," Alderman Susan Stark said.
And the committee agreed Wilson — the main east-west route across town — is a higher priority, especially because the federal government is chipping in $1.5 million toward the work, which is estimated to cost $4.3 million. Mayor Jeff Schielke was worried that putting off the Wilson work would put that funding in jeopardy. Bids are to be let in the spring, with the work expected to start in June.
Alderman Lucy Thelin-Atac worried, however, that delaying Houston would diminish the effort to make the downtown more friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians. It can be difficult to cross Batavia Avenue, a four-lane state highway, at Houston because there is no stoplight. The streetscape work would have put in paver crosswalks, and the bike lane would lead to the Riverwalk, the Fox River Trail and the bicycle/pedestrian bridge that connects Island to River.
"We lose the bikeability. That concerns me greatly," she said.
But Stark said people can just walk a block south to Wilson and cross at the traffic light.
Chairman Dave Brown said he "wasn't very happy at all" when the postponement was proposed last week.
"We kind of look like we're wearing flip-flops at a meeting: We are always changing our minds all the time," he said.
But after talking to the mayor, and further study, he came to agree. And he reassured Thelin-Atac that Houston will not be forgotten. It will be discussed at the next community development committee, along with work for Batavia Avenue, he said.
The full city council will need to vote on the postponement, but 10 of the 14 attended the committee meeting, and nobody spoke against it.
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