November 14, 2012 4:53:04 PM
With permanent striping, some minor landscaping and a nod from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the Louisville Street widening project, slated to be finished in September, is finally near completion.
Gregory Construction of Columbus started work on the project in February, but city engineer Edward Kemp said the city has been trying to widen Louisville Street since 2008.
"It's been a really long process," Kemp said. "It's just kind of the nature of an MDOT or federally-funded project."
It has been a longer process than anyone expected. The $1.2 million project had an original end date of Sept. 9, but that target date was moved back to the end of September as August drew to a close, with plenty still to do.
Merchants on Louisville Street were made aware of the completion date changes and were given updates by the workers while construction was being done in front of their businesses.
But after September passed with the work unfinished, several of the business owners said they received no more updates.
"I don't know of any ground-breaking, earth-shattering events that caused the project to slow the way it did," Kemp said. "It was probably just a combination of a lot of smaller things that just built up."
An employee with Gregory Construction on site Tuesday afternoon would only say there were issues with the project but refused to elaborate, saying, "I gotta work with these people."
Despite the delays, merchants seem to appreciate the improvements, even though the work has meant inconveniences.
Lashanda Johnson, an employee of Cash Till, thinks merchants are already benefiting from the improvements. She said traffic flow is better, thanks primarily to the addition of a turn lane.
"People don't just have to sit there any more, you can just merge over to the middle," she said. "Everybody just has to get used to it first, though, because it's always been the other way."
A merchant who asked not to be named said he was pleased with how the road turned out and was even more impressed with the sidewalk, but raised questions about lighting on the road, which after the striping will include a multipurpose lane for bicycles and other small vehicles.
Though lighting is handled by the Starkville Electric Department, Kemp said he is sure there will at least be an assessment completed at some point, and that, "obviously we want to make it a safe environment at night, because we anticipate a lot of pedestrian traffic."
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, whose ward Louisville Street borders, said she has already seen people using the sidewalk, and she thinks it's another great addition to a section of town that is already making big improvements.
"From Middleton Market Place to the private businesses and even the parking lot at Dirt Cheap, the whole area has done a really good job at picking itself up," Sistrunk said.
Striping is scheduled for next week, and there will be a final inspection by MDOT, which Kemp said will probably happen later this month.
Kemp credited the current and previous boards of aldermen for their commitment and foresight in following through with the project.
"No project ever gets 100-percent positive feedback, and this was no exception," Sistrunk said. "But it's going to be a huge focal point for that area."