Josh Benham, The Observer

Much like taxes in April or the leaves falling in autumn, the flipping of the calendar brings the yearly set of street projects for the La Grande Public Works department.

Recently, Public Works Director Norm Paullus presented a lengthy list of upcoming projects to his employees for the coming spring, summer and fall.

"Some of them go beyond the summer," Paullus said. "I try to keep them posted on what's on the horizon so that we can stay on task. Some of these aren't projects that we're doing, but (are) projects that contractors may be doing, but we may be playing a fallout role."

Paullus said the proposed projects do not include the day-to-day operations of the department, such as the lab testing done for two to three hours every day at the sewer treatment plant. He also said that while workers are split into five divisions within public works - sewer, water, street, engineering and motor pool -

employees jump from project to project, regardless of specific divisions, to ensure the work is completed as soon as possible.

"We work on team effort down here," Paullus said. "Even though some are assigned to sewer (and) some to street, we work as a team. We sometimes marry groups together to get a project done, even though that isn't their speciality. It's part of the cross training, and that way, we don't have to have a larger staff than we currently have."

A parking traffic safety and street maintenance advisory commission made up of La Grande citizens picks which projects get the go-ahead from a "10-year list," Paullus said. Street projects are partly covered by grants and street user fees, while storm improvement funds come from storm event fees.

One of the more impactful street division projects is the implementation of new and improved street signs on Cove Avenue from Walton Road to Cherry Street. The Oregon Department of Transportation is partnering with the city to oversee and handle that project.

"The heavier traveled areas (on Cove Ave.) will have stop signs with red blinking lights," Paullus said. "They're solar-charged batteries, so (itwill require) no electrical use."

The Union County Senior Center on Cove Avenue is also in line to benefit. Paullus said the center's residents face difficulties crossing the street.

"Part of this project is putting a lighted pedestrian crosswalk in there," he said. "They can punch a button and a light goes off for travel lanes. That one will be handled by ODOT. It'll be out to bid (for contractors) in May, and construction will be in the summer to fall. It's a major project."

A street overlay is a cost-effective means of extending the life of a road, and an overlay will be occurring on J Avenue from Fourth Street to Sixth Street for an estimated $45,000.

"It's the south side of the (Union County Assessment and Taxation

Department, located at 1001 Fourth St.) office," Paullus said. "It's a direct path into the college, and we're going to pave that this spring. It'll make that entry into (Eastern Oregon University) more of a direct entry with a better road."

Cedar Street, from M Avenue to N Avenue, will be going through a total reconstruction, a summer project with a cost of about $48,000, according to Paullus.

"It'll get new curbs and wheelchair ramps at all four corners," he said. "It gets a complete dig up. The gas company, Avista, just placed a gas line on the east side of the street, and it deteriorated a lot quicker with that work. Avista will partner with us and share the costs."

Paullus has been overseeing projects on 20th Street since 1990, and that road will go through a future reconstruction from Adams Avenue to Gekeler Lane. That project will be put out for bid in May, Paullus said, with a notice to proceed to a contractor by July 7. Bike lanes and sidewalks will be installed as it is widened to 42 feet. Paullus said the water and sewer services are already in place, and the contract work on the street itself, which is scheduled to be done by mid-December, will cost roughly $2.4 million.

Century Loop, which has two exits onto 20th Street, is also scheduled for an overlay, costing roughly $90,000, along with new catch basins to help water drain out of the road. Paullus said the southeast intersection develops a lake of water during rainstorms, a problem that's existed since 1975.

W Avenue, from Greenwood Street to Fir Street, is getting an overlay, and Fir Street, from the old Union Pacific Railroad building to Y Avenue, will be resurfaced.

Paullus stressed the importance of the department's street reviews.

"We actually walk them every year," he said. "We have an evaluation program that generates the acceleration rate of (deterioration of) a street. Our street funds are extremely limited for the value of what our streets are, so we want to spend it where we'll get the best bang for our buck."