Richland Avenue Traffic and Pedestrians

Traffic backs up on Richland Avenue as pedestrians cross the street. This crosswalk could be the site of a new pedestrian tunnel below the street.

The planned Richland Avenue pedestrian tunnel project is moving forward despite an increase in cost after the city of Athens hired an Ohio-based contractor.

Andy Stone, city service-safety director, confirmed Monday that the city had contracted with Rietschlin Construction Inc., a company based in Crestline Ohio.

The project, which is scheduled to begin March 3, 2020, and finish on Sept. 11, 2020, is designed to make the stretch along Richland Avenue between Ohio University’s Porter Hall and West Green safer for pedestrians and drivers by raising the grade of the road and installing a pedestrian tunnel beneath the heavily used – by both vehicles and walkers – roadway.

The traffic and pedestrian problem has been going on for decades, Stone said. In an April 28 City Council committee meeting, Stone referenced a 1968 newspaper article describing the conflict between pedestrians and drivers at the site of the planned project.

During OU class changes particularly, a great number of students are attempting to cross Richland Avenue near Porter Hall, at times when there’s plenty of vehicular traffic as well.

The project was estimated to cost the city approximately $1 million, supplemented by a federal highway grant of $1.8 million dollars.

In addition to the initial cost, Athens City Council approved an approximate 9%, or $150,000, increase from the initial engineer’s estimate after no contractor put forward a bid within the initially proposed price range.

Stone explained that the cost was unable to be met due to time constraints in which the project would need to be completed. Since the project needs to be completed before the start of OU’s fall semester 2020, no contractor could reasonably meet the assessed costs.

“In our previous efforts to bid the project, the feedback from contractors was: trying to fit it all in summer between graduation and move-in was too short of a time,” Stone told The NEWS on Monday. “The speed of construction was driving up costs.”

The state of Ohio has laws preventing cities from accepting contractor bids at 10% above the initial estimate, Stone said.

The city is collaborating with OU on the project. 

The OU Board of Trustees approved a related increase last week in the financial commitment to the project at the request of the city of Athens.

Jim Sabin, media director for Ohio University, said the university has allocated $767,000 toward the project. 

The university will provide $212,000 for sidewalk work and other work that directly benefits the university, Sabin said. This leaves $555,000 available for the remainder of the project, up from the initial commitment of approximately $400,000.

“Ohio University has been consistent in agreeing to pay 33 percent of the project costs not associated with the state of Ohio’s grant of $1.8 million,” Sabin said.

Stone said the project will take place both on city property, Richland Avenue, and the university-owned sidewalks that run alongside the street.

Stone said the university is granting Athens a temporary easement on its property for construction, and a long-term easement on the property for ownership and maintenance.

“That’s a property transaction that we’ve had to work through during development over the past couple of years,” Stone said.

Another issue with construction is the maintenance of traffic, Stone said. During construction, traffic – pedestrian and vehicular – will be closed on a portion Richland Avenue for construction of the tunnel.

“We realized there is no way this project can be built without closing traffic,” he said.

Stone said the streets have to be open to traffic by Aug. 15, 2020, before university student move-in occurs.

In coordination with OU, Stone said they decided the best time to have traffic disruptions was during the end of spring semester rather than the beginning of fall semester.

The detour for the construction will be via Shafer Street and Union Street, according to Stone.

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