OU pedestrian tunnel rendering_brick

The design engineering firm’s rendering of the proposed Richland Avenue pedestrian tunnel.

The city administration on Monday asked Athens City Council to appropriate additional money for a project to construct a pedestrian tunnel under Richland Avenue at the current location of a crosswalk on the Ohio University campus.

This would be at least the second time that the city administration has asked City Council for an increase in funding for the roughly $3.18 million project (the current amount without the increase).

In total, City Council is being asked to provide an additional $282,000 to provide for a “contingency fund” for the construction project – in case overages due to unforeseen construction needs arise, as likely will happen – as well as to fund a full-time structural engineer’s presence on the project. The project is set to begin on March 2

Mayor Steve Patterson said during City Council’s transportation committee meeting Monday that that structural engineer will be a good “boots on the ground” presence to head off any issues that crop up during the project. Currently, the city’s director of public works and his staff are “at max with so many different things going on,” Patterson said.

Andy Stone, Athens’ service-safety director, said that it’s important for the city to have a 5-10 percent contingency fund for big construction projects – the city had one with the recent East State Street road repaving project, for example. Typically, not all of that money is spent, and the money ends up going back into city coffers once the project is closed out, Stone explained – for example, with East State Street, about $450,000 went back to the city as a result of the roughly $4.5 million project being completed under the city’s cost estimate (about $5 million).

Still, the request to City Council represents the second time the city has asked for increased funding from council for the Richland Avenue project. City Council approved a $150,000 increase in appropriations for the project last year after no construction companies bid on the project.

City Council member Sam Crowl noted that OU already has committed approximately $400,000 for the project, and said the city has asked the university for another roughly $145,000 in funds for the project.

“They’ve verbally committed to increasing the $400,000 to $646,000,” Crowl said, although that increase hasn’t received final approval yet.

The city has received a $1.8 million grant for the project, and already had committed to providing about $1 million to it.

The project will close Richland Avenue to both lanes of traffic near the West Green and Porter Hall from March 2 to late August of this year, with the project being completed by Sept. 11.

Local traffic will be routed in the following way, according to a recent release from the city: Local traffic will be maintained on West Green Drive and Bobcat Lane throughout the project. The vehicle detour will be South Shafer Street and West Union Street, with a detailed pedestrian detour utilizing temporary and existing sidewalks to guide pedestrians to West Green and Baker Center. 

The project will build a “grade-separated pedestrian passage” under Richland Avenue between West Green Drive and Bobcat Lane. The purpose of the project, according to the city’s release, “is to improve pedestrians’ experience and safety by eliminating hundreds of daily vehicular and pedestrian conflicts at the existing crossing.”

The project includes pedestrian friendly barriers, aesthetic lighting, sidewalk reconfiguration, and intersection improvements at West Green Drive and Bobcat Lane, the release said. 

City Public Works Director Bob Heady said in a brief phone call Tuesday that about $115,000 in savings (the project came in under bid) will be combined with the proposed $282,000 in additional funding from the city to pay for the contingency fund (about $220,000) and about $175,000 to pay for the structural engineer.

 

IN OTHER NEWS, the city administration also asked City Council during their transportation committee meeting Monday to appropriate additional funds for the design of a project improving Stimson Avenue, though construction on that project likely won’t begin until 2021. 

Crowl said that the city administration is seeking an additional $128,000 in funding for the design and engineering of the Stimson Avenue project, which the city already appropriated roughly $630,000 for last year. He said the new funds will help the city obtain right-of-way easements it needs, design additional features for the project, and design the process of moving utilities underground.

Athens Mayor Steve Patterson and Council Member Crowl noted that utility poles are located on the Stimson Avenue sidewalk, which is an issue with accessibility for those using the sidewalk with wheelchairs or other mobility assistance. This project would move those utilities below ground.

Service-Safety Director Stone said the Stimson Avenue project is a big one, estimated to cost about $5 million with $3 million in grants received so far for the project.

“The purpose of the project is to improve safety, upgrade intersections, promote accessibility, update lighting, provide streetscape aesthetics, and replace city water, sewer, and storm infrastructure,” the city of Athens’ website states about that project.

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