January 18, 2018 10:58:57 AM
The city has adopted a modified plan for downtown improvements to pedestrian accessibility and traffic flow.
An early draft of the new improvement plan, created by city engineer Kevin Stafford of Neel-Schaffer, includes a pedestrian crosswalk across Main Street near Harvey's restaurant and a roundabout at Main Street's Second Street intersection.
In a unanimous vote Tuesday, Columbus City Council authorized Stafford to continue applying for a Mississippi Department of Transportation's Transportation Alternatives Program grant, but under new terms. The new plan places previously proposed improvements -- at the corners of Main and Fifth streets, Main and Sixth streets and Fifth Street and Second Avenue -- on the back burner.
"What they approved (Tuesday) was to change the scope completely," Stafford said. "We won't even be working in the same area. The last scope was around the Fifth Street and Sixth street areas up the hill. What they did (Tuesday) night was they approved to move down the hill to Second Street and to make traffic and pedestrian improvements at that intersection."
Rather than replace traffic lights and improve pedestrian crossing areas "up the hill," Stafford said MDOT determined improvements at the Second Street intersection should be the city's first priority.
Stafford said the new plan is not final but a rough draft based on that priority.
According to MDOT Annual Average Daily Traffic data, an estimated 11,000 vehicles drove through the Second Street intersection daily in 2016.
Stafford said part of an overall study of Main Street, from Highway 82 through its Sixth Street intersection, by MDOT officials examined accidents within the given stretch from January 2012 to August 2017. In total, 111 accidents occurred on the stretch of road during that time period, and almost one-third of those accidents happened near the Second Street intersection.
"That's an inordinate amount of accidents in comparison to the volume that's coming out right there," Stafford said.
The roundabout concept Neel-Schaffer is proposing would slow traffic down, Stafford added, especially eastbound cars exiting Highway 82.
"The other thing is right now you have Harvey's employees that park on the north side of (Main Street) and run across the road because there is no crosswalk there ... and then when we have large events at the Riverwalk ... anytime something big happens over there, parking runs out and people start parking down at the soccer complex and walking over," Stafford said. "So this would provide a legitimate crosswalk."
Stafford brought the proposed concept before a board of stakeholders, which include city councilmen, city officials, a Convention and Visitors Bureau representative, a Columbus Main Street representative and others.
Ward 5 councilman Stephen Jones sits on the board and said during its first meeting last month everyone present agreed the plans were a positive change for the city.
"I think it'll be a good thing for safety. We have had a lot of accidents at that intersection where they're talking about beginning the repairs," Jones said. "Any time we can do something to help prevent accidents, it's a great thing.
"I've seen (the roundabout) in other places -- down by the coast; they have one over in Starkville -- it's a great concept to get people to slow down and to make it safer," he added.
Stafford said the MDOT TAP grant will cover about 80 percent, or $720,000, of the roundabout project cost. The city will contribute about $282,000, but Stafford asked the council Tuesday to approve up to $300,000 in case planning and construction costs fluctuate.
Stafford plans to submit the TAP grant application by the end of January and expects to hear whether the city has been awarded the grant by mid-summer. Once the money is appropriated, he said, the city must complete a more detailed design process, any necessary utility relocations and right-of-way adjustments.
"Design will basically run through the end of this year," Stafford said. "It'll be about 230 days, and we're anticipating about a mid-May start. Then the right-of-way and utility adjustments will start in January and go through May of next year. ... Sometime in early summer of next year, we will start bidding and contracting, and once we get through that, we should be able to hopefully start construction somewhere around September of 2019."
In all, the roundabout and crosswalk project should be complete, Stafford said, by June 2020.
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