A Car Drives Along Front Street

A car drives along Front Street in downtown Washington Tuesday, Jan. 12. The city is working with Ameren to bury utility lines along the road.

A series of planned improvements along Front Street in Washington have seemingly become stuck, according to multiple city officials. 

“The ball is definitely in Ameren’s court,” said Sal Maniaci, Washington’s community and economic development director. “We are waiting to do some significant improvements to Front Street until the utilities are buried.”

Several years ago, Washington city officials said they hoped to bury existing utilities — including power and telephone lines and other cables -— along Front Street. They partnered with the utility company and others to identify how the project could be completed in three phases. 

The first phase, completed in 2018, buried the utilities from Market to Lafayette streets. 

The second phase, which was slated for completion in 2019, was to bury the utilities from Lafayette to Cedar streets. The third phase, which had a target completion date of 2020, was to bury the utilities from Cedar to Olive streets. 

“We are hoping that they may be able to roll phase two and phase three together into one and get it all done this year,” Maniaci said. 

Washington Public Works Director John Nilges said he believes the project is still on Ameren’s radar, but that the last update he received from the utility company was last summer. 

“I don’t know where the project is on the priority list,” Nilges said. 

He said Ameren has been making “pretty large improvements” to a substation in Washington and replacing utility poles on Third Street. 

If Ameren submitted its plans to bury the utility lines, Nilges said the city would “move fairly quickly” to get them approved. 

“The last I heard was that Ameren was working on design plans for this project,” Nilges said. “We, as a city, know pretty much what to expect those plans to look like and we have a pretty good idea on what we want.”

Jenny Barth, a spokesperson for Ameren Missouri, confirmed Tuesday that the project remains in the design stage. 

“Once the design plan is complete a review will be held with the city to determine next steps,” Barth told The Missourian.

Once the utilities are buried, Maniaci and Nilges said the planned improvements include new sidewalks and Americans with Disabilities compliant ramps, addressing stormwater drainage issues, new crosswalks and resurfacing the street. 

The city is hoping to receive a grant that would pay for the majority of these improvements, Nilges said. 

“We have applied for a Transportation Alternative Program grant,” said Nilges, who explained the grant is through the federal government and would cover up to 80 percent of the cost of the project. He said city officials have been told they should learn if their application has been approved within the next two weeks. 

If approved, Nilges said he would estimate that construction would not begin on the street improvements until 2024. Maniaci said once Ameren’s plans are approved, bid information for burying the utility lines could be released as early as April 2021. 

If the grant application is denied, Nilges said he has plans to apply for a Surface Transportation Grant. This grant would not be awarded until the summer. 

“Our hope is that once everything is completed that Front Street will be more aesthetically pleasing and more bicyclist- and pedestrian-friendly,” Maniaci said.