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Committee floats Salem street repairs, land for libraries and fire stations in infrastructure bond

Sidewalk damage on Pearl Street Northeast. A city infrastructure bond proposal would dedicate millions toward street and sidewalk repairs over the next decade (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Salem could see millions invested in street and sidewalk repairs over the next decade under an infrastructure plan drafted by a city committee – if Salem voters approve a bond in November.

The draft plan also calls for the city to purchase new fire trucks, repair or construct bathrooms in five city parks, modernize the city’s data infrastructure, and acquire land to build two fire stations and two new branch libraries co-located with affordable housing.

In total, city leaders will ask voters to greenlight a $300 million spending package in the November election. The infrastructure projects won’t raise property taxes because it will be paid for with bonds replacing older city bonds due to expire.

City leaders began work on the proposal last year. In an April 15 meeting, a committee of five city councilors finalized a proposal, which will next go to the full city council for consideration.

Councilors are scheduled to hold a work session on the package May 16 and will take public testimony. The council would likely vote on a final package in their May 23 meeting.

“I am a big believer in government and government working really well, and so when I see the lack of maintenance in our city’s infrastructure and the ways in which we could further our services we’re providing to our residents I get really excited,” said Councilor Virginia Stapleton, who served on the infrastructure steering committee.

The proposed bond package sets aside money to buy land for libraries and build two fire stations which councilors said are badly needed to serve the city’s growing population. But there’s no money allocated to build the libraries, and councilors said Salem currently doesn’t have money in its annual budget to fund operations for new libraries or fire stations.

Councilor Chris Hoy, who represents east Salem, said that’s a challenge of long-term infrastructure planning, but he’s hopeful the city can find the funding over the 10-year period the bond covers.

“If we wait until we have the money to actually acquire the property it’s kind of one of those vicious cycles,” he said. “If we don’t have the operating funds then we won’t build it.”

Here’s a rundown of what’s included in the proposal. A city map shows the locations of proposed projects.

Roads and sidewalks

The bulk of the money, $157 million, would be spent to repair bridges, roads and sidewalks, improve signs and add pedestrian crossings and bike lanes on some streets.

The plan designates money for some specific projects but would also set aside a pot of funds to be used for general purposes like sidewalk repair, with specific fixes to be determined at a later date.

“I wish we could do more of those projects that have a wow factor but we need our sidewalks finished, we need some of the basics done,” said Councilor Jose Gonzalez, who served on the infrastructure steering committee.

Center Street Northeast is among the major Salem arterials that would see improvements. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Among the larger projects is the $23 million construction of Marine Drive Northwest, which would run from Harritt Drive Northwest to Taybin Road Northwest and include a new multi-use pedestrian path connected to Wallace Marine Park, according to a city description.

Four city bridges would be strengthened to remove load restrictions. Those include bridges on Liberty Street Northeast, 17th Street Northeast and 15th Street Northeast over Mill Creek, and Mission Street Southeast over Pringle Creek.

Many of the city’s major arterials would see road repairs, including curb ramps to meet Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements. Those include portions of Commercial Street Southeast, Center Street Northeast, 12th Street Southeast, Doaks Ferry Road Northwest and Portland Road Northeast.

State Street from 13th to 17th Streets Northeast would be reconfigured to have one lane going each direction, with a center turn lane, new bike lanes and a pedestrian crossing on 15th Street Northeast.

A complete list of proposed projects is available on the city website.

Fire trucks and stations

The plan sets aside $26 million to replace the city’s fire trucks, which are 15 years old and have over 300,000 miles on them.

Fire Chief Mike Niblock previously told Salem Reporter maintenance costs on the aging fleet have soared in the past five years, with the city spending $895,000 on vehicle repairs in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Another $14 million is set aside to purchase land and build two new fire stations in northeast and southeast Salem, where response times to emergency calls are longer.

Salem’s firetrucks are 15 years old and past the end of their expected life (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Civic center seismic upgrades

Salem 50-year-old Civic Center, where much city government work takes place, would receive a seismic retrofit to strengthen and reinforce its windows, roof and skylights.

That’s expected to cost $39.4 million.

Parks

New trails, playgrounds, bathrooms and other facilities are among the upgrades included in the $28.5 million set aside for city parks.

Stapleton said the project list is “trying to hit on all the different age ranges that we have in the city” by including structures for kids, sports facilities and paved trails that senior citizens have requested.

Two northeast Salem parks would have new bathrooms constructed – Northgate Park, where a local parent council began organizing large Friday community events last summer, and McKay School Park. Restrooms at Bush’s Pasture Park, Wallace Marine Park and Cascades Gateway Park would be replaced.

New tennis and pickleball courts would be added at Highland, Hoover and River Road parks. The plan also calls for paving the Minto Brown Island Park dog park and river access parking lots.

Attendees walk in during the Hallman Neighborhood Family Council’s inaugural “Fun Fridays at Northgate Park” event on Friday, July 9, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Technology

The city would spend $17.6 million improving financial reporting and accounting systems, creating a second city data center for recovery after a natural disaster and improving cybersecurity.

Councilors said the 2020 hack of the city of Keizer’s computers underscores the need for the fixes. Keizer paid a $48,000 ransom to regain control of its data.

Libraries and affordable housing

The plan calls for $7.5 million to buy land for two buildings that would have a city library branch on the ground floor with affordable housing above it.

Stapleton said councilors hope to put one in northeast Salem and one in southeast Salem, both growing areas of the city that are currently underserved.

A bookcase in the teen section at the main Salem Public Library (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The city currently has a main library just south of downtown, and a west Salem branch.

As with the new fire stations, Salem doesn’t currently have money available to fund the operations of a new library branch. Stapleton said once councilors complete work this year on several major projects, including an overhaul of the city’s comprehensive plan, they’ll turn their attention to revenue streams and closing that gap.

Another $10 million in the infrastructure package would go toward affordable housing projects and is intended to be granted to public and private developers to offset project cost increases for housing in development.

To be eligible, a project would need to offer rents affordable to people living in Salem, with a specific target to be determined.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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