Hudson leaders look ahead to many projects, challenges in 2021
Roads, paths, sidewalks all on radar for city officials
HUDSON — Municipal leaders said they are looking forward to many projects and challenges in 2021.
City Manager Jane Howington said fixing roads and sewers will be a priority in the new year.
"Council is very focused on improving infrastructure for our citizens," said Howington. "I think that's their top priority."
She noted that an increase in income tax collection is allowing the city to dedicate more funds to such projects.
"Over the last three to four years, we experienced a very high level of job growth with corporate businesses and large offices coming into the city," said Howington. "That job growth has created the ability to have a [significant] increase in our income tax [collection]."
Howington noted she anticipated a continued rise in income tax collection in 2021 and 2022 due to companies such as Diebold Nixdorf and Fleet Response setting up shop in the city.
In 2018, council decided it would start using a portion of the city's carryover money for road projects. They city is planning to spend $2.5 million on street work in 2021.
Howington noted that the city will do "full-depth asphalt replacement" which will reduce the amount of patching needed on roads.
"It's much better for the roads," she said.
Mayor Craig Shubert said a project to add some designated left turn lanes along state Route 91 (Main Street) will be finished in 2021. Water line work has been completed and efforts will soon begin to widen the road, as well as install a bike lane and multi-use path.
"We're going to see a lot of street improvement projects," said Shubert. "I think people will truly appreciate that being done."
Connectivity project will take steps forward
In addition to upgrading roads, city officials are also looking to improve connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists.
"Council has … had the …fortitude to take … our connectivity plan, and put it together in a five-year plan and fund it so that we have all of our connectivity done in five years," said Howington.
The overall cost of the connectivity plan (a combination of sidewalks and multi-use paths) during the next five years is $18 million. Council will be asked to ratify the connectivity plan at a meeting this month. A lot of design work and some installation of sidewalks are planned in 2021. Howington noted there will be some borrowing of funds for the projects.
"We have the capacity to repay that because, in 2023, we have a huge amount of debt coming off of our plate," said Howington.
Shubert said multi-use paths will be put in along major arterials while sidewalks will be installed in neighborhoods.
"I think we'll finally see some connectivity from the outlying areas into downtown," Shubert said.
Council member Skylar Sutton (Ward 3) noted that both the connectivity plan and the widening of South Main Street (Route 91) will start in 2021.
"We're going to have a few rough years of orange barrels around town, but I think the city has been long overdue for both of these efforts," said Sutton.
The condition of roads and the lack of sidewalks in many places are two concerns Council president Bill Wooldredge (at-large) said he often hears about from residents.
"The five-year plan addresses both of these issues," said Wooldredge.
Council member Chris Foster (Ward 2) said the connectivity plan was redesigned in 2020.
"It has not been formally adopted yet, though the 2021 portion is moving forward as though the plan was adopted," stated Foster.
Howington said council also increased funding for stormwater projects such as ditching, culverts, catch basins and other types of preventative maintenance.
One focus area for these projects will be the city's east side, which "has been challenged by stormwater problems for years," said Foster.
Adaptive traffic signals on the way; pedestrian safety on radar
Howington added council approved moving forward on installing adaptive traffic signals, with design work planned in 2021.
"The adaptive signals are basically smart signals that can talk to each other," said Howington.
If there is a traffic backup on a street, a signal in an adaptive system can be changed to alleviate the problem.
"That will eliminate an awful lot of our traffic jams and backups," said Howington.
Officials are also focused on improving pedestrian safety. At some crosswalks in the city, pedestrians can press a button to trigger lights in the walkway that will alert a motorist that someone is attempting to cross the road. While more of those lights need to be installed, Shubert said he would like to see if a sensor can be put in so that crosswalk lights are triggered a few feet before the pedestrian reaches the street.
"If we're going to continue encouraging people to come to downtown…we need to focus on pedestrian safety," said Shubert.
Helping businesses during pandemic
Another major goal is to keep businesses healthy as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
"We've very vested in trying to continue outreach and programming for our businesses," said Howington.
Howington said the administration will soon provide council with a series of proposals designed to help businesses. The ideas include putting more furniture downtown, installing Wi-Fi access downtown, and setting up fire pits and infrared heat lamps to keep customers warm.
Council member Nicole Kowalski (at-large) said she felt it was "crucial" to protect small businesses and added legislators have to "mitigate the damage done by COVID-19 by implementing creative solutions."
Kowalski expressed optimism that innovative approaches can be implemented to aid local merchants.
"I see a new year where businesses flourish as we come out of this pandemic as a community stronger than ever," said Kowalski.
Sutton said he felt that the biggest issue in 2021 will "continue to be the economic fallout from the pandemic."
"With vaccines shipping there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but many of our residents and businesses will continue to struggle well into 2021," said Sutton. "I am hopeful we can find/create opportunities to help with the recovery."
Figuring out how to use the Phase II property at Owen Brown Street and Morse Road will also be on council's radar in 2021. Wooldredge said officials are arranging for a "statistically valid" survey of residents "that will give us citizen provided direction for utilizing the Phase II acreage."
Foster said he hopes the upcoming survey will clarify what resident would like to see on the Phase II land.
"We are starting to evaluate market research companies that will hopefully provide a clearer long term vision of what Hudson residents believe is important when considering Phase II land development," added Foster.
Howington said she anticipates that staff will discuss the Phase II survey issue at a council workshop on Jan. 26.
Sutton said he is "very excited" to have quiet zones being set up at the railroad crossings at both Hines Hill and Stow roads.
"Our neighboring communities have had quiet zones for many years and we've been overdue for our own," said Sutton. "This will bring a lot of peace and quiet to a lot of residents and increase the safety of the crossings."
Kowalski noted that most of council's votes in 2020 were 6-0 or 7-0, and she hopes that trend will continue in 2021. She added she wants to see continued efforts to attract more businesses to the city. Doing this, she said, will be beneficial to everyone because it will diversify the income tax base "so we are less reliant on property taxes."
Schools deal with pandemic, construction projects
Hudson City School District Superintendent Phil Herman said the COVID-19 pandemic, construction projects and diversity are three major issues that the district will navigate in 2021.
"We will continue to adjust to the latest guidance, work with public health officials to make the vaccine available for our staff, and continue to focus on our students' academic and mental health needs," said Herman.
As the district continues to deal with the challenges brought by the pandemic, work will continue this year on completing the master facility plan.
"2021 will bring completion of the addition and renovations to East Woods Elementary and to McDowell Early Learning Center," said Herman.
Later this year, students in grades 3-5 will move into East Woods, while preschool and kindergarten students will move into McDowell. Once students move out of Evamere Elementary School, work will begin to convert that building into a central office, with anticipated completion in late spring of 2022.
Herman added the district is working with Liberty Development to explore the firm's proposal to convert the 1927 portion of the old middle school "to owner occupied, market value condominiums."
Herman said there is an opportunity for everyone to grow in their "understanding and appreciation of our differences within the school district.
"Growing in our understanding of diversity will help us create a comfortable and welcoming environment for all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, or culture and will help ensure that Hudson graduates are prepared to tackle an increasingly multicultural world," stated Herman.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.