January 3, 2018 11:46:34 AM
Pending the authorization of a Mississippi Department of Transportation grant, the city of Columbus may be improving its downtown curb appeal and pedestrian accessibility.
The city council on Tuesday approved a request by George Irby, interim city planning and community development director, to apply for an MDOT Transportation Alternatives Program grant, which would enable the city to upgrade traffic lights and extend sidewalk curbs at the intersection of Fifth and Main streets.
City engineer Kevin Stafford, vice president of Neel-Schaffer, said MDOT had studied Columbus' Main Street for the past six months, starting near the Riverwalk and ending at Sixth Street. MDOT looked for ways to improve the street and made suggestions, from which the city developed an improvement plan focused on one of the road's busiest intersections.
"A lot of complaints the city gets is that pedestrians don't have enough time to cross the street because the lights are so quick," Stafford said.
"Bumping out" the curbs, or extending them into the road, he added, would minimize the crosswalk and put pedestrians closer to the other side of the street before they cross. He said each sidewalk corner at Fifth and Main would be extended by about 15 feet and traffic signals would be updated.
The project proposal also eliminates the right-hand turning lane on Main Street at Fifth Street, near the Rosenzweig Arts Center, home to the Columbus Arts Council. Eliminating the turning lane, Stafford said, leaves room for a few new parking spots in front of the RAC.
Stafford plans to meet with Main Street merchants next week to present the project.
The city is applying for a $500,000 TAP grant to cover 80 percent of the Main Street improvement project cost. The city will be required to contribute an additional $125,000 to cover the remaining cost, Stafford said.
He said MDOT estimates the project will take around 450 days from start to finish. He expects the timeline, which includes finalizing a design and conducting the bidding process, will be shorter than estimated.
"I think the improvements are very necessary, and it'll be a great aspect to the downtown area if we receive the grant," said Mayor Robert Smith.
Smith said he doesn't expect the changes to affect businesses near the intersection.
"I think the businesses downtown -- once we receive the grant and it comes to fruition -- I think they'll be very receptive," he said.
The MDOT grant application deadline is Jan. 31, and Irby said securing the grant will allow the city to begin the project next fiscal year.
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