Fear receded and cautious optimism emerged in the wake of a Wednesday workshop that sought to hammer out a way forward on the Cascade Avenue construction project slated for 2014.

Cascade Avenue merchants, city officials and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) seemed to be in agreement on a modified construction schedule that was perceived as much less threatening to the livelihood of Cascade Avenue merchants than the original schedule.

An asphalt roadbed built on a schedule of a rolling three-block closure for three months or less appears to be in the offing. This new schedule was put together during meetings Monday and Tuesday with the city and selected stakeholders. ODOT flew in a team of senior construction planners to work with the local Region 4 team to help craft a solution.

Earlier this year ODOT announced their schedule for the 2013-2014 project, which included the full closure of Cascade Avenue for five months from January 2 until the end of May 2014.

At that time, after several years of planning and a full year of community outreach by both ODOT and the city, the ODOT planners felt they had the input and support of the merchants affected by the construction. They had heard "get in and out" as quickly as possible, and the full closure was the fastest way to get the concrete roadbed in place.

In early August, a group of Cascades merchants came together to protest the full closure approach. There were a series of private and public get-togethers. Some of the meetings involved just the merchants and others involved the city and ODOT.

This all led up to Wednesday's meeting. On Thursday morning the city council further mulled the results at their regular morning workshop. There was some push-back against Wednesday night's plan, but at the end of the meeting a majority of the council appeared to be in agreement with Wednesday's major conclusions.

The council consensus was to delay a final decision on the schedule until ODOT had a bit more time to thoroughly vet the new schedule.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the council decided to open a final public forum on the Cascade Avenue construction issue as part of their regularly scheduled meeting on October 25. The council was split in whether they would make a decision at the October 25 meeting, or if they would make their final decision at their November 1 workshop.

To stay on schedule, ODOT needs a final decision from the city in early November. The council opted to make November 1 a deadline for their decision.

ODOT came into the community meeting Wednesday with a greatly modified approach to the completion of what all parties agreed is a badly needed rebuild and upgrade of the Cascade Avenue roadbed.

There were two major changes that allowed ODOT to significantly compress the schedule from a five-month full closure of Cascade down to a rolling three-block closure for three months or less.

The first decision was to change the planned roadbed from concrete to asphalt. While this pushes paving right up to the end of the May construction cutoff deadline due to weather considerations, it also allows for much more localized disruptions.

According to the ODOT experts, concrete and asphalt cost roughly the same to install, with concrete lasting 40 years and asphalt lasting 15 to 20 years before being resurfaced. The concrete roadway is more difficult and less attractive to maintain.

The second decision was to write the construction contracts to include extended and even double shifts; that mandated night work where possible, that provided restrictions on the disruption of business pedestrian access, and allowed for liquidated damage charges for schedule overruns.

Councilor David Asson raised the lone objection to the proposed solution.

Asson said, "We need to make sure we are really looking at this in the long term. We've spent two or three years now with ODOT, SERA (architects) and (city) staff coming up with a plan that is supposed to make this town really grow."

Asson did not directly state that he favors the concrete roadway as originally proposed. However, he said that the architects' drawings detailing asphalt vs. concrete "speak for themselves."

"We have a year to put together a marketing plan," he said. "There is a way to overcome a lot of these problems (raised by the merchants). With a lot of added work and a positive attitude we could put something together."

Asson's approach drew the ire of Chris Wilder, owner of Sisters Log Furniture, who has been acting as the spokesman for the concerned Cascade merchants.

However, Asson expressed the belief that the council is not hearing the voice of the entire business community.

"I know the feeling is there (that this is a better plan) but it is not the fact," he said. "There are an awful lot of people that don't know what is going on here."

He expressed his belief that it is imperative to get input from "all of the community" before the October 26 meeting.

The city and ODOT have teamed up to collect the funding for the $6-million-plus project. The grants won include monies for a complete makeover of the downtown streetscape in conjunction with rebuilding the roadway. Improvements will include eight-foot sidewalks, improved drainage, benches, trees and light poles.