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AUSTIN EDITION -- County, city join forces on upgrade

Mower County signs off on 18th Avenue project

By Amy Olson

aolson@postbulletin.com

Officials from Mower County and the city of Austin say a compromise reached on the reconstruction of a busy northwest Austin corridor will benefit both the city and county.

Mower County board members agreed Tuesday to upgrade the 18th Avenue reconstruction project to include amenities such as sidewalks, decorative concrete work and fancier lighting in return for the city of Austin agreeing to take over maintenance of the street, also known as Mower County Road 27.

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Mower County plans a $2 million reconstruction of the corridor running between Fourth Street Northwest and 14th Street Northwest. It is expected to widen the four-lane street by adding left-turn lanes and add a semaphore at the Oak Park Mall Cashwise Foods entrance and a four-way stop at the intersection with Eighth Street Northwest. Construction is expected to begin in June and last until October or November.

County Board Chairman Len Miller said the project will be a big improvement.

"It's a disaster right now," Miller said.

City officials approached the county about incorporating decorative lighting, medians and sidewalks on both sides of the street late last year as the county's Highway Department was planning the reconstruction of the artery running through Austin's commercial corridor.

County Engineer Mike Hanson said the decorative lights will look like ones installed in downtown Austin along Main Street, giving the city the option of putting up banners and flower pots on the light posts. A sidewalk will run from the Oaks Condominiums to Applebee's restaurant on the north side of the highway, and a sidewalk will run the entire length on the south side.

Board member Ray Tucker said the county's finance committee discussed the enhancements the city wanted and agreed the county would incorporate the features if the city took over maintenance.

The county expects to get $1.62 million in federal aid for the project, in part because the thoroughfare qualifies as a high hazard area because of the location and amount of traffic. Hanson said the county will apply for more funding from the state to cover the cost of the amenities.

Tucker said landowners will not face assessments because of a county policy against assessing for upgrades. He called the agreement a tradeoff.

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Hanson said the amenities are expected to cost about $250,000; he estimated maintenance of the road and sidewalks would run at least $300,000a year. City Engineer Jon Erichson said he did not have an estimate on the maintenance costs.

"I think it's a good deal," Hanson said. "It's something to show the city and county can work together."

City Administrator Pat McGarvey agreed.

"I think it shows we can work together," McGarvey said.

The city council is expected to vote on the agreement Monday.

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