Hudson City Council hopes to install more walkways, multi-purpose trails

Legislators will soon discuss how to pay for nearly $19 million in projects

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
A priority list for nearly $19 million worth of new walkways and multi-purpose trails in Hudson has been created and city council's next task is to determine how the projects will be paid for.

HUDSON — A priority list for nearly $19 million worth of new walkways and multi-purpose trails in the city has been created and council's next task is to determine how the projects will be paid for.

During the last few months, council members hosted community meetings to find out from residents where they would like to see walkways and multi-purpose trails added in the municipality. Through the meetings and the application of a revised scoring system to define priorities, city staff put together a list of the walkway and multi-purpose trail projects that should be prioritized.

The administration at a meeting on Sept. 16 presented a document to council showing an estimated cost of $18.78 million to install 16 separate walkway segments and three multi-purpose trails. The top five priorities on the list are walkways along: Middleton Road from state Route 91 to High Point Park; Stow Road from Hudson Springs Park to state Route 303; 303 from North Hayden Parkway to Stow Road; 91 from the northern corporation line to Garden Lane; and Stow Road from Chamberlin Boulevard to the existing sidewalk.

Assistant City Thom Sheridan suggested targeting November or December for council to approve a new connectivity plan. The process would go through three readings and allow time for public comment.

"I think we got a great plan," said Sheridan. "I think we got a lot of input and I think we accomplished the goal we set out to do. Now let's just get it over that finish line. In the [upcoming] budget [talks] that's the biggest question: How do we want to pay for it?"

Council in August reviewed the input it received from residents during meetings in the summer. City staff then put together a report prioritizing what segments of trails should be connected in Hudson.

Senior Planner Nick Sugar reviewed the changes made to the scoring system.

"I think we all agree that the scoring needed to be simplified a bit," said Sugar.

With safety being a major topic in the community meetings, Sugar said he added some categories to address that issue: High Speed, 35 MPH or more; and High Traffic, 5,000 cars or more on average per day. Roads meeting those criteria earn extra points. Adding these categories "captured" many of the arterial streets, Sugar said.

Any segment of road that was among the top five most mentioned by residents also earned additional points. Each category except one earned 10 points. The one category that earned 15 points was connecting a neighborhood to a school.

"When we combined so many other qualifiers, everything went back to schools," said Sugar. "I think the original plan really focused on connecting schools, safety to schools, so [we] did give more points to connecting a neighborhood to a school and it was just such a focus of that feedback."

Council member Skylar Sutton (Ward 3) said he liked the new scoring system, noting he felt it "captures a lot of what we heard from residents."

Council member Beth Bigham (Ward 4) said she was pleased that some scoring categories — like giving a high point value to a location close to downtown — had been removed.

"I'm thankful that we've identified some other things," said Bigham. "We've listened to the people. I think it's moving in the right direction."

Council member Chris Foster (Ward 2) added he felt the map presented by staff showing the prioritized segment connections looked "really good."

The proposed connections on the priority list "connects people to Hudson Springs, it gets Middleton done," said Foster. "It creates those corridors, east-west, north-south. It connects some of the sidewalks to nowhere. It gets you down to Georgetown and over to Barlow…It looks great. [I'm] curious as to how much it's going to cost."

Finance Director Jeff Knoblauch reviewed the pros and cons of potential funding mechanisms: pay as you go; borrowing funds; a special assessment; grants; bond levy; and an income tax increase.

Knoblauch told council that while special assessments, grants, a bond levy, or an income tax increase could be utilized, he noted, "I don't know that we would even want to entertain these [options]."

He said the city was going to reduce the amount of debt it owed during the next five years.

"Within the general fund …the last couple of years of the five-year plan, we have a substantial amount of debt that's falling off," said Knobluach. "Our annual debt service payment drops by about $1 million a year."

If council wanted to borrow money for connectivity projects, Knoblauch said, "there is some flexibility when we move out a couple years." 

Foster said he was "not adverse to debt as long as the debt is well-timed out and it doesn't overextend us."

Knoblauch suggested council could do a "pay as you go" approach with some of the lower cost segments on the priority list.

Bigham said she wants the projects done soon, but emphasized, "it's really a matter of finances and where we can find the money and how we can fund it." She noted she needed to spend time studying budget data.

Sutton said he knows residents want the projects done right away, but noted, "we know that's not realistic." He added a five-year process seemed like a reasonable time period to shoot for, but said he also needed to study the financial data more.

Council President Bill Wooldredge (At Large) said the city needed to address stormwater projects more, and observed, "I think we're going to have make trade-offs between stormwater and [connectivity projects] and perhaps some other areas."

Foster said if all of the listed projects were financed over a 10-year period, the debt payment would be about $1.9 million annually. He added he agreed that stormwater issues needed to be addressed.

Bigham observed some of the sidewalk projects could be "cohesive" with some of the stormwater work.

"It seems like we have a really good tentative plan," said Council member Kate Schlademan (Ward 1).

Community Development Director Greg Hannan said city officials would reach out to all residents who participated in public meetings and offer them a chance to provide comments on the city's proposed plan.

He noted the administration would then discuss connectivity again with council at an upcoming workshop session.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.