- Associated Press - Thursday, May 5, 2016

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) - Nearly three years after Galveston began charging to visitors to park on Seawall Boulevard, the city has begun to install improvements on the Gulf-front street, which they say will enhance the beach experience for both visitors and city residents.

Officials from the city, the county, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Park Board of Trustees and the Goodman Corp., the city’s transportation consultant, took part in a groundbreaking on Seawall Boulevard on Wednesday.

The Galveston County Daily News (http://bit.ly/1SRzxgR ) reports that over the coming months, the city will install new bathrooms, bus shelters, identifying signage, bike racks, new lighting and benches.

The improvements should be complete by the end of 2016, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

“This project is called a transit project, but it’s a beautification project,” Yarbrough said. “It’s a good example of a project that’s not only good for tourists, which is important, but it’s good for the people that live here.”

The most visible additions will be five fully functional toilets that will be installed at points along the south side of the seawall. The toilets will include running water and wash stations that can be used by beachgoers.

The prefabricated bathrooms, known as Portland Loos, are designed to discourage loitering. The designers placed wash stations on the outside of the kiosks and included openings at the bottom of the station that to allow law enforcement to see if people are inside the toilet, without compromising privacy.

The toilets and bus stops will be built in lanes that are currently used for parking.

The city has also partnered with the nonprofit organization The Artist Boat to install 33 new benches on the seawall.

The 29 new bus stops will also eventually lead to the introduction of new bus lines that travel down the length of Seawall and between other popular tourists destinations, including the city’s beach parks and downtown.

The bus lines will use refurbished Island Transit buses at its inception, one city official said. The city unsuccessfully applied for a grant that would have allowed it to buy “rubber-tire trolleys,” buses that look like rail trolleys, to use on the Seawall-connected bus lines.

The Seawall bus line will eventually work in conjunction with the city’s rail trolley, which is scheduled to return to the island in 2017.

The city council approved the $4.9 construction contract for the improvements last November. The city will pay for the improvements using $6.3 million in federal grants, along with a $1 million grant from the Frito-Lay corporation and $466,000 in city funds.

The improvements are technically, according to officials, the second phase of a grander plan to transform Seawall Boulevard into a better looking and more pedestrian-friendly street. The first phase of seawall beautification began in 2009, with the redesign of the Fort Crockett Park and pavilion on the 4600 block of Seawall Boulevard.

Barry Goodman, the president of the Goodman Corp., said the city would seek another $6 million for improvements to the Izzard and Hampton Batteries on Seawall Boulevard.

While seawall improvements are inexorably tied to paid parking on the street - they were a key part of the argument made by supporters of the charges in the 2011 election that implemented them - the city is not using the fund to pay for the improvements.

Rather, the city is using a pair of federal transportation grants to pay for construction. The seawall parking funds will pay for ongoing maintenance of the improvements.

The seawall parking fund has $687,798 in it, a city spokeswoman said.

The seawall improvements are the third piece of major infrastructure work to begin on Seawall Boulevard this year.

In January, Galveston County began a $1.4 million project to repair and replace broken sidewalks on either side of the street. That project is on track to be completed in June, county spokeswoman Brittany Rainville said on Wednesday.

In April, the Texas Department of Transportation began repaving Seawall Boulevard between Ferry Road and 39th Street.

That $2 million project, which is being done at night on weekdays to avoid causing traffic problems, is planned to be completed by July 22.

Danny Perez, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation, said there was really no good time to start the project, but the agency was working to make sure it didn’t cause too many interruptions.

“There’s really not an ideal time,” to do major street work, Perez said . “We try to be cognizant. The important thing is we wanted to get started, get out contractor working out here and get out of here as quickly as possible.”

It’s a thought that city officials echoed, in regard to their own project.

“That’s when it timed out,” City Manager Brian Maxwell said, before injecting some optimism into the start of construction. “I think it’s going to encourage our visitors to come back and see the finished product.”

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Information from: The Galveston County Daily News, http://www.galvnews.com

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