Sidewalks on both sides of Chemawa Road N. are just part of an upgrade project taking place this year. Crews will add a traffic signal at the entrance to McNary High School and build a multi-use path from the city limits west to Keizer Rapids Park. (KEIZERTIMES/ Andrew Jackson)

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

The west Keizer portion of Chemawa Road will have a whole new look by the end of 2012.

Engineering started on the sidewalk and road widening project last year, and city officials hope the $2.3 million project will be complete by September of this year. The design portion is on track to be done in spring, with construction starting in the summer.

From River Road west to the city limits – just west of 15th Avenue – separated sidewalks, bike lanes and rain gardens will be added. A multi-use paved path is planned from the city limits west to the park. The combination will create access for pedestrians and bicyclists without having to use the roadway or the shoulder. Street trees will be added between the curb and sidewalks.

“This is going to be huge,” said Councilor Cathy Clark. “There’s a lot of people that walk on Chemawa. It’s very heavily used by not only cars but bicyclists and pedestrians, especially with the high school and Cummings just down the road. … There’s also a bus line.”

Most of the project’s funding comes from state and federal sources, with $960,000 from the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program and another $883,000 from the Transportation Enhancement Program. About $450,000 comes from the city’s street fund.

With more activities at Keizer Rapids Park, including a boat ramp that recently garnered state funding, Clark said the upgrades take on even more importance.

“One reason this got funded was the regional park at the end.,” Clark said. “We want to make sure there’s safe access for bike and pedestrian and vehicle traffic up and down Chemawa. … This project plans ahead for that safety component.”

One highlight is a stoplight at the heavily-used intersection at the entrance to McNary High School. While Chemawa Road will remain at two lanes, it will widen for left-turn pockets at the entrance, allowing dedicated left turns into the school’s campus and onto Delight Street.

Public Works Director Rob Kissler said the improved intersection will provide a smoother, safer experience for drivers.

“It will also enhance pedestrian safety due to the heavy pedestrian traffic entering and leaving McNary High School,” Kissler said. “We’ve had some injuries at that location already.”

Students at McNary are likely well aware of the hazards that come from walking on the sidewalk-less Chemawa Road N. Clark hopes adding a safe place for pedestrians will encourage more walkers in general.

“I just feel safer and more comfortable, and studies show when people feel safe they’re most likely to walk,” said Clark, a known avid walker and bicyclist herself. “If they don’t feel safe they’re more likely to find other means of transportation.”

Sidewalks will be separated from the streets with rain gardens similar to those found along Dearborn Avenue NE. The gardens are designed to reduce runoff into the storm drain system, which in turn means less untreated water going into the Willamette River and other tributaries, Kissler said.

The intersection at Shoreline Drive, Windsor Island Road and Chemawa will remain largely as is. Kissler said traffic counts and other factors didn’t warrant a street light or other drastic change like the roundabout planned for Verda Lane NE and Chemawa Road NE.