The city’s Public Works Department staff on May 14 presented details about three Old Town improvement projects that aim to revitalize the historic area.

Improvements include the next two phases of the Old Town Plaza construction, the second phase of the streetscape project and upgrades to Railroad Street.

Also in the works is the construction of two public parking lots for those visiting the plaza and neighboring businesses.

Kristin Parsons, a senior civil engineer with the city’s Public Works Department, said that the city held its recent meeting at the Trigg Education Center for the purpose of educating the community about the forthcoming improvements.

“We wanted to let everyone know kind of in one forum what to expect over the next couple of years, and why we’re doing these projects,” she said.

Parsons said that through the projects, the city hopes to improve circulation and access to the Old Town area, and provide better ways for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers to access the area and frequent its businesses more.

Parsons added that another goal of the project is to make the area more inviting.

“(The project will give visitors) a place to kind of relax, a place they want to be and a place to have some nice events in (the) Old Town Plaza,” she said.

Of the projects presented in the meeting, the $6.8 million Railroad Street improvements will move forward next.

That project, which will begin this fall, will reconstruct Railroad Street, south of Elk Grove Boulevard to the creek, as well as from Grove Street to the eastern end of the plaza.

A historic, abandoned railroad spur within the site will be relocated nearby as a nod to Elk Grove’s longtime railroad history.

The majority – $4.2 million – of the funding for the Railroad Street project will come from the city’s General Fund. The balance includes $1.7 million from drainage fees, $556 million from the federal Community Development Block Grant fund and $443,000 from Measure A funds.

Construction on the second phase of the three-phase Old Town Plaza project is set to begin next summer, and it is not yet known when the third phase will begin. Phase 1 was completed in 2017.

Upcoming phases will include a pavilion structure, a public art component, landscaping, hardscaping and seating areas.

The second phase, which includes the art component and seating area, will front Elk Grove Boulevard to the north, while the third phase will be located to the north end of the site and will feature spaces for farmers’ markets and food truck events, and possible entertainment.

The total estimated cost for the final two phases of the Old Town Plaza project is $6.3 million, $1.2 million of which will be used for the second phase.

While the third phase of the plaza is not yet fully funded, the second phase will be funded through the city’s General Fund.

Old Town’s streetscape project began in 2005 and was completed the following year.

That phase was performed along Elk Grove Boulevard, between the railroad tracks and School Street. The project increased the width of Elk Grove Boulevard from 44.7 feet to 60 feet, yet decreased its road space with the placement of a median between the road’s two lanes. In addition, traffic signals were installed at School Street.

Phase 2 includes concrete sidewalks and plans for landscaping. It will also create more formalized traffic lanes, with one through lane in each direction, shoulders and a center, two-way left turn lane.

The $7 million project covers a 2,400-foot section of the boulevard, between School Street to the west and Waterman Road to the east.

A proposal for a traffic signal at Elk Grove Boulevard and Kent Street was revised to instead feature a pedestrian-initiated flashing light for crossing the street. That change was made to avoid additional traffic congestion in the area.

Kevin Bewsey, senior civil engineer with the city, spoke to attendees of the meeting about the city’s recently completed traffic study that addresses the intersection of Elk Grove Boulevard and Kent Street, where certain people in the area wanted a traffic signal.

“What the city found was that Kent Street and Elk Grove Boulevard do not operate well,” he said. “It is difficult to make that left turn, but it isn’t so bad that you need an actual signal there. It’s very close to needing a signal, but it’s not quite warranted right now.”

Bewsey noted that the intersection of Elk Grove Boulevard and Railroad Street could qualify for a traffic signal. However, due to its proximity to the railroad tracks, it “would be difficult to do that.”

Bicycle lanes, landscaping and underground utility lines are also a part of the Phase 2 plans.

Underground utility work is scheduled for the summer of 2020. The remainder of the street improvements is slated for 2021.

Jacqueline Lockhart, project manager for both the Railroad Street and streetscape projects, said it is important that the latter project create a road that is safe for all modes of transportation and aesthetically appealing.

Federal grant funds will cover $4.5 million of the total cost of the streetscape project’s second phase. The remaining portions of the $7 million needed to complete the project will come from drainage fees ($695,000), the gas tax ($691,000), Measure A funds ($587,000) and the city’s General Fund ($200,000).

Responses from Old Town residents, business owners

Concerns expressed by those attending the meeting pertained to traffic, parking, the homeless and the preservation of the historic feel of Old Town.

Gus Provolos, an Old Town property owner, mentioned that he supports the city’s plan for increased parking in the area.

“The customers to our rental properties are moving in and out constantly, because there’s just not enough parking for them,” he said. “Adding more parking to the plaza section of the Old Town area, I’m totally in favor of that, 100 percent.”

Old Town resident Vivian Yost was among the attendees of the event who expressed concern that homeless people might occupy the Old Town Plaza following its improvements.

“I hate to say it, but I had that same concern about the homeless, that homeless people might come,” she said. “But maybe we can all come together and help them find a place to go.”

Yost added that she is looking forward to attending summer events that are cooler due to the project’s addition of plants, grass and shaded areas.

Jordan Blair, who recently moved back to his childhood home in Old Town, said he is also looking forward to the area’s improvements.

“I have a passion for Old Town, and I’m hoping that some of the glory we experienced before will be brought back to that area,” he said. “I know some of the (projects) may not be the most popular, but I am excited about getting a little bit more community events, being able to bring back some of that feel.

“I am excited about being able to see the commerce that’s going to come into the Old Town area, getting people to stop in that area to spend time to support the local community right there.”

Parsons said public input was an important part of the May 14 open house.

“We like to collect feedback on all of our projects and take what’s important to the community members and try to incorporate that as best we can into the design wherever it’s feasible,” she said. “So, our design teams will all reconvene and get back together individually in their respective groups and try to incorporate things that were requested or things that we know the community liked a lot.”