Work on Phelps, Smart2 Projects to Begin in Spring

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Two major downtown infrastructure projects will get underway by spring, city officials said Wednesday.

Work is expected to begin by the end of February on the conversion of North Phelps Street between West Commerce Street and West Federal Street to a pedestrian mall. 

The city’s Board of Control approved awarding a $1.34 million contract for the project to Marucci & Gaffney Excavating Co., Youngstown, at its meeting Wednesday. The board also approved two items related to the upgrade of Fifth Avenue and six related streets funded in part by a $10.85 million federal grant.  

“This is just another step for us to move Youngstown forward,” Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said. 

Marucci & Gaffney was the lowest of three bidders for the North Phelps Street work, which will include sewer and waterline installation and replacement of the block-long stretch of downtown street with brick walkways, landscaping and other features. The contract also includes North Phelps work just north of West Commerce.   

Work under the six-month contract should begin in late February and be complete in August, said Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works. During the “QA/QC” – quality assurance/quality control – process, the city identified a couple of areas where changes could save significant money, but delaying the process slightly. 

The changes, which included eliminating a large manhole on West Commerce and tightening some of the hand tunneling specifications, “ended up saving us around $700,000,” Shasho said. 

“You’ll start seeing results a little bit after the Fourth of July,” he said. 

Unlike the creation of Federal Plaza in the 1970s, establishing the North Phelps mall won’t disrupt downtown traffic flow. “You’re encouraging commerce through beautification,” Shasho remarked.  

The board also passed two items related to the Smart2 Network, or Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, Technology & Training. Members approved entering into a Local Participating Agency agreement with the Ohio Department of Transportation for the $26 million project and entering into a grant agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation to accept the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or Build, grant.   

Officials are optimistic the Fifth Avenue work will not be as disruptive as the most recent work on the road.

In December 2018, USDOT announced the award of the federal grant, which will fund major upgrades to Fifth Avenue, including a “road diet” and adding transit waiting stations, hike and bike paths, green infrastrucure, landscaping and crosswalks. The project will involve upgrades to West Federal, North Phelps, West Commerce and West Front streets, and implementation of an autonomous shuttle service. 

The local match includes $4.7 million being provided by the city and several partners, including the Ohio Public Works Commission, Youngstown State University, Western Reserve Port Authority and Mercy Health as part of the total match. 

USDOT is in the process of sending the contract that the city has to sign to receive the grant, said Jim Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments. The agreement then will be forwarded to ODOT and the Federal Highway Administration for processing of the grant.

The city is awaiting federal authorization to proceed with letting the bids, which Shasho said should occur later this month. The Fifth Avenue phase, which he expects to get underway in April, will take about a year, he said. 

Work on the second phase could begin later this year with completion in 2021, and implementation of the autonomous shuttles is expected in spring 2022. 

“It’s exciting to get to this point. It’s been a lot of work for everybody who has been with this from the beginning to get the grant,” Kinnick said. “It’ll be an exciting day to finally see the realization of the Build grant and the Smart2 network come to fruition.”

Shasho is optimistic that the Fifth Avenue work would not be as disruptive as the most recent work on the downtown artery. One side of Fifth likely will remain open while work is performed on the other side. Fifth might need to be closed “a block or two at a time” for installation of the crosswalks.

“You want to build those all the way across because they’re colored concrete,” he explained. “You don’t want to get into a situation where the colors don’t match across the street.”  

Pictured above: Work on North Phelps is expected to begin at the end of February.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.