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Crews began removing trees on North Albany Road this week, the kickoff to a long-planned widening project between the railroad tracks and Quarry Road.

Drivers will experience some lane restrictions between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Thursday and Friday as tree removal takes place on both sides of the road. Most the extensive work will take place this summer, with traffic being routed onto Quarry while the bridge over Thornton Lake is replaced.

The city expects to remove about 36 trees on North Albany Road and another 20 on Gibson Hill. Work on Gibson Hill will take place next week and run through Feb. 13.

Lindsey Austin, project manager, said any maples and oaks cut down this week will be donated to Parks and Recreation's Sawing for Schools program, which provides materials for mid-valley woodshop classes. Cottonwoods will be given to Love INC., which provides firewood and other resources to families in need.

Although added to the city's transportation plan years ago, the North Albany Road reconstruction project didn't begin moving forward until July 2013, when increased traffic prompted the city council to ask that it receive priority status.

Construction was to have begun last year, but suffered from permitting delays, Austin said. "There's a lot of agencies involved in the work."

The project includes approximately 3,000 feet of full street reconstruction on North Albany Road, including pavement, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, and storm drains.

It also involves approximately 550 linear feet of new construction on West Thornton Lake Drive west of North Albany Road, complete with the new bridge over Thornton Lake. West Thornton Lake Drive will be realigned to intersect with the road at the North Albany Middle School traffic signal.

A new 30-inch water line will be installed north of the park-and-ride site to an existing main southwest of the Gibson Hill roundabout.

Total estimated costs for the project have fluctuated since the council go-ahead. Right now, the estimate is $7.7 million, including the new waterline, although Mark Shepard, public works director, said it will likely change once bids are in hand. 

City spokeswoman Marilyn Smith said of this total, $6.6 million comes from a combination of state Surface Transportation Program funds, systems development charges, and North Albany connection fees (paid by developers long ago for future infrastructure improvements). The remaining $1.1 million is a federal grant dedicated to the Gibson Hill sidewalk portion.

Austin said the city is working hard to keep neighbors informed at each step of the project, reaching out through a link on its website, www.cityofalbany.net/northalbanyroad; a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/northalbanyroad; and a Twitter feed at @NorthAlbanyRoad. 

It's the first big social media outreach effort for a city construction project, as far as Austin knows. The idea is to help connect neighbors to one another and to timely information, such as traffic delays, during the length of the project.

At North Albany Middle School, Principal Jane Evans said she stands ready to issue maps and directions to parents who might need to take the back way to the school building if work is going on during summer school and fall registration. 

Evans said she sat in on many meetings about the project and is thrilled progress is finally being made, particularly because of the new sidewalks.

Right now, children tend to walk in the bike lanes, or on the gravel edge or in vacant lots. "It's not very safe," she said. "I think it will be wonderful for the kids to get here." 

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Education Reporter