Union County’s three largest cities are set to emerge from this summer with significant upgrades.

The public works staffs of the cities of La Grande, Elgin and Union are in the middle of making meaningful infrastructure improvements.

The City of La Grande’s summer project list includes street improvement work on a stretch of Willow Street and a portion of Adams Avenue from Island Avenue to Fir Street.

The work on Adams Avenue will include the installation of new sidewalk ramps that will better meet the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The improved ramps will make the sidewalks more accessible for those with mobility issues.

Another major project on tap in La Grande is the construction of a 850-foot sidewalk along H Avenue from Central Elementary School to Sunset Drive below Grande Ronde Hospital. The sidewalk will boost student safety, said Joe Justice, chair of the La Grande School Board.

Justice noted that many students walk to school on Sunset Drive, which has sidewalks, before turning off on to H Avenue, which currently does not have sidewalks.

The La Grande School District announced in March that the sidewalk would be built this summer. La Grande School District Superintendent George Mendoza told The Observer then that the need for the sidewalk was obvious when one sees the number of cars parked along H Avenue after school. The vehicles of parents picking up their children parked on H Avenue often stretch west from Central all the way to Sunset Drive. This means children and their parents have had to walk over ground that is often wet and spongy or on the street itself to get to and from Central. The superintendent also noted the convenience of a five-foot-wide sidewalk will mean fewer people will be walking on H Avenue to avoid wet ground.

The City of La Grande received federal funds for the project via a Safe Routes to School grant. School districts cannot apply for Safe Routes to School grants but municipalities, such as cities and counties, can, said City of La Grande Public Works Director Kyle Carpenter. The City of La Grande received a Safe Routes to School grant of $140,000 for the sidewalk project.

All of the sidewalk will be in a public right-of-way. Carpenter noted that no portion of a Safe Routes to School project, according to government regulations, can be on property that belongs to a school district.

The sidewalk will pass the entrance to La Grande High School’s track and field facility. Justice said that the school district will install a sidewalk leading to the track and field facility off of the H Avenue sidewalk.

“It will come to the bleachers,” Justice said, adding that this will make it easier for people with mobility issues to reach the track and field complex.

Carpenter said summer is the ideal time for concrete and asphalt projects because warm, dry weather conditions allow for faster curing. He acknowledged that there is pressure in the summer to get as much of this type of work done as possible. The stress, though, is the type his staff is accustomed to.

“It’s annual, so we are used to it,” he said.

A highlight of Union’s summer projects is one that will result in the entire perimeter of the Union School District’s high school and elementary school being surrounded by sidewalks. Only a portion of the campus perimeter already has sidewalks.

The work is being done by the City of Union in cooperation with the Union School District.

Mendy Clark, the Union School District’s deputy clerk, said the sidewalks will be a big plus.

“It will make the area more attractive for students walking to school,” Clark said.

Paved parking areas, in several cases, will also be added along the new sidewalks. The parking areas mean that when parents pull up along sidewalks to pick up or drop off their sons and daughters, the students will not have to walk on to a street, Clark said. The parking areas, she said, will also reduce traffic congestion.

Clark said the sidewalks and parking areas will not only make the situation safer for students during the school days but also for members of the public attending school events.

The sidewalk and parking area work is part of an upgrade that also calls for several stretches of Union’s streets to be fully reconstructed. The improvements will be made to South First Street from West Center Street to West Dearborn Street, and West Center Street from South First Street to the alley east of South First Street.

The City of Elgin also has a full slate of summer projects on its docket, including work on the Indian Valley Estates development on the north edge of Elgin. Infrastructure including water, sewer, Internet and electricity lines are being installed at Indian Valley Estates, which will have 19 lots, according City Administrator Brock Eckstein.

Two other City of Elgin projects involve work at its Community Center. A new heating, air conditioning and ventilation system will be installed, replacing a system that is more than four decades old. Eckstein said it will operate more efficiently than the present one.

“It will reduce our energy use,” Eckstein said.

The City of Elgin is also removing the Community Center’s aging sidewalks, which will be replaced this fall.

Eckstein said he hopes the city also will be able to pave the 1.2 miles of roads it has that are still gravel. He said that having a full complement of paved roads will reduce dust and the number of potholes Elgin’s roads have.

Elgin will be able to pave these roads if it receives a Small City Allotment grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation it has applied for, Eckstein said.

Elgin Mayor Allan Duffy said some of these projects have been put off for years, and he is delighted that his city is now in a position to address them.

“I’m so proud of our community,” the mayor said. “We are really moving forward.”

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