Ominous clouds and a chilly drizzle couldn’t dampen the groundbreaking celebration for the final phase of the Rainier Avenue South Improvement Project.
Renton Public Works Administrator Gregg Zimmerman’s promise to keep at least five lanes of traffic open throughout construction drew heavy applause and whistles from a crowd of more than three dozen attendees, including State Senator Margarita Prentice, State House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn and King County Council member Julia Patterson among others representing state and regional governments, funding agencies and local businesses.
Groundbreaking for the $42 million final project phase took place Tuesday on the corner of Rainier Ave. South with South Third Place in the parking lot of McLendon Hardware.
Rainier Avenue South serves as the major north-south thoroughfare through Renton and connects South King County and South Seattle to Renton. When completed, the improvements will result in a safer, visually aesthetic north-south corridor through Renton. The project is expected to enhance transit mobility, improve traffic safety, and provide a more welcoming pedestrian experience though new 8-foot wide sidewalks, landscaped buffers, and improved street lighting.
"This is one of the major commercial corridors in Renton," said Mayor Denis Law. "Improvements here will provide significant benefits to businesses, enhance the economic vitality of our downtown, and strengthen transportation in and through Renton."
Prentice reminisced about her previous career as a nurse at the bygone Renton Hospital, formerly located on the McLendon site, beofer turning to the issue at hand.
"I've worked on local projects for over 20 years and I never get tired of watching another one come to fruition. This new gateway will benefit thousands of users and truly reflects the spirit of our great community," said State Senator Margarita Prentice.
Clibborn also shared her memory of the hospital where her father formerly practiced medicine. She remains humbled by the ability of so many entities to come together as one.
"Transportation projects like this one are complex and aren't successful without a number of creative partnerships," she said. "Congratulations to the city and the many project partners for breaking ground on this important project, which will improve transit mobility, upgrade traffic safety, and enhance pedestrian safety."
King County Council member Patterson addressed the crowd as the Sound Transit Board Chair.
"Sound Transit's major investment in this project will help move buses and pedestrians more quickly through the corridor, making connections to Sounder commuter rail and King County Metro Transit's RapidRide more accessible and convenient," she said. "Our contribution to this project exemplifies the importance of regional partnerships in improving transit for Central Puget Sound residents."
Gail McLendon, president of , also chimed in with a personal story. She was born at the old Renton Hospital — possibly in what is now the gardening department, she joked.
"We are excited about the improvements to come and appreciate the support and dedication of the elected officials who have worked towards completion of this project for many years," she said.
The City of Renton, Sound Transit, US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, Transportation Improvement Board, Washington State Department of Transportation, Puget Sound Regional Council, and the Department of Commerce Public Works Board have worked together to fund the project, which has been more than a decade in the making.
Phase 1 of the Rainier Avenue Project, completed in 2008, replaced the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad bridge crossing over Rainier Avenue between South 4th Place and S/SW 7th Street. Phase 2, completed in 2009, replaced utility infrastructure, replaced the Shattuck Avenue railroad bridge, widened Shattuck Avenue at South 4th Place, and improved pedestrian areas by adding sidewalks and landscaping, according to city officials.
Attendees warmed up with coffee donated by Starbucks and .