Federal St. Slated to Close as Smart2 Project Advances

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – More downtown road construction – and the inconveniences that accompany it – is on the way, but stakeholders say they are looking forward to the results.

Charles Shasho, the city’s deputy director of public works, provided a virtual update on the $27.65 million Smart2 – or Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, Technology & Training – Network project on Friday. He said it should be complete by 2024.

In the next 30 days, work will begin on Federal Street, starting at the east end near South Avenue, with the street being closed in phases as the project moves west, Shasho said. Work will begin on the west end of Federal this construction season after work on Front Street is complete and open to traffic.

“The contractor is really itching to get started by the WRTA [bus station] on Fifth Avenue,” Shasho said. “However, in order to start that we have to have Front Street reopen to traffic because that’s really the only way through town right now.”

The most challenging part of the project will be between Phelps and Market streets. “There are underground basement issues we’re going to have to deal with,” he said.

Work on Phelps Street – one of the earliest phases of the downtown work – is mostly complete, Shasho said. Installation of paving and concrete crosswalks at the Boardman Street intersection is all that remains. Boardman Street between Market and Hazel streets will be closed for the work sometime in the next 30 days. The project will take about three weeks.

“We will, of course, allow local traffic into the police department,” which is on Boardman Street, he said, “Anytime I say a road is closed, local traffic should be maintained as much as possible.”

Depending on the weather, paving should begin Tuesday or Wednesday on Front Street, which has been restricted to eastbound traffic for several weeks, Shasho said. Curbing is in place throughout the road and roughly half of the sidewalk has been constructed. Once the paving is done, work will begin on the bike path.

“This section of Front Street and Market Street and South Avenue will remain closed to through traffic” but open to local traffic, he said. Walnut, Market and Champion street traffic will be maintained.

Work also is continuing on Commerce Street, where most of the demolition is completed and underground installations such as catch basins and light pole foundations are completed, he said, Within the next week, one of the project’s subcontractors will arrive to install curbs. Landscaping and light pole installation also will get underway in the next 30 days, he reported.

“Once the curb goes in, you’ll start seeing some progress, and then we’ll start working on the sidewalks, and the medians will have to go in at some point,” he said.

Commerce will be paved this year; more information about that project will become available before the next update in about 30 days. “It’s a little bit different because we don’t have a bike trail put in on Commerce Street, so we’re hoping to get both sides at the same time,” he said.

Access during construction will be maintained by utilizing north-south streets such as Walnut and Champion streets, he said.

“Portions of Commerce, Federal and Front streets will be closed simultaneously,” he acknowledged.

There is always demolition as a project progresses. “It doesn’t always go smooth downtown. There’s always a manhole that we didn’t see or we may have found a broken sewer or some type of unknown vault,” he said, Such discoveries are part of “the nature of working in the downtown area,” he lamented.

Being downtown, where traffic already is congested, is one of the complicating factors to the project, Shasho acknowledged.

Another factor is that several streets are undergoing “road diets” as part of the project. When a road is widened, more road is then available to shift traffic onto as the project moves forward.

“The narrowing of a road is a lot more complicated, especially when you’re putting in medians, because you’re actually getting less road to work with as the project progresses,” he said.

Several downtown stakeholders who participated in the virtual call acknowledged the inconveniences caused by the construction but largely were enthusiastic about the upcoming upgrades.

Deanna Rossi, an investment adviser representative and branch office supervisor for Transamerica Financial’s downtown office, said she was pleased to see the city had a plan. The construction has been inconvenient, she said.

“This is like a pregnancy. We’re in the part where you don’t feel good, you don’t look good, but I was glad to see the sonogram today, so to speak, and see what it’s going to look like,” she said.

“I hope that they really do have a good strategy for closing down all the streets, because that’s been the hard part,” she continued. “But I think when it’s done, it’s going to be great, it’s going to be wonderful. We all just have to keep our eye on the end results.”

Marvin Logan, executive director of Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology, also is pleased that the city was making a “concerted effort” to keep businesses informed about expected timetables for work. Many downtown businesses will be affected by the work, and it is important to consider what can be done to support these businesses.

“We’ve all had some challenges through COVID and we’ve done our best to stay competitive,” Logan said. “Moving through this transition period, we’re going to need a little more support in order for us to be able to do that.”

Fourth Ward Councilman Mike Ray also applauded the effort to inform downtown stakeholders and the community.

“People, when they don’t know what’s going on, assume the worst,” he said,

“In general, there are a lot of complaints about the condition of downtown during construction,” he added. “It’s important that we convey how big of a project it is and how much investment is going down there and how different it’s going to look.”

Shasho said he is “fairly happy” with progress on the project.

“It was little bit of a rough start,” he acknowledged.

Projects like these tend to improve as the work proceeds and contractors’ methods become more efficient, he added.

“Plus, I think the motorists and residents get more used to the construction and begin to adjust to the changes in means traffic,” he said.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.