Options narrow for Church Street Bridge Rehabilitation Project

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By Juanice Gray, jgray@natchitochestimes.com

The Church Street Bridge project is down to two options: (1) whether or not to skew the new bridge to align with the intersection of St. Claire and (2) whether or not  to build an alternate bridge at Touline. Based on feedback from the first public meeting, the Highland option and utilizing staged construction (closing one lane while maintaining traffic on one lane) are no longer options.

This was revealed at a Church Street Bridge public meeting Thursday night at the Events Center. The option of skewing the bridge had many poring over the visuals depicting the options, but did not generate much discussion. The temporary bridge at Touline was the hot topic. For the seven months constructing the temporary bridge and the 11 months replacing the Church Street Bridge, Touline would be converted to one way, from Front to Second Streets according to Fenstermaker engineer Dax Douet.

“The least impactful option is at Touline. There are no homes involved and it will miss the sewer lift station on the Williams Avenue side.”  He said the intersection of Touline and Second Street would be monitored and if red lights were needed they could be installed. According to Erin Buchannan, DOTD public information officer, DOTD would be responsible for replacing any part of the downtown riverbank disturbed or removed.

Dax Douet talks to a sizable crowd interested in the future of the Church Street Bridge.

 

The model shows the temporary bridge extending across the end of the access road at the ingress point to the Riverbank, but not over the Santa Claus house. Some trees and shrubs on both sides of the river would have to be removed. A temporary barricade will be placed at the intersection of Stephens and Williams Avenue sto prevent bottlenecking at the intersection.  Buchanan said the aesthetic of the permanent bridge will align with the current bridge and riverbank decor.  Douet said the Riverbank would be accessible only at the north end, near Kaffie Fredericks. Traffic would have to flow both directions at that access point.

“The south access point would be eliminated,” Douet said. “There are alternative ways to build the bridges that will minimize the noise and vibration,” he said. “We have to respect the sensitivity of downtown.” Kimberly McDaniel, traffic engineer with CobbFendley, said in August of 2017 traffic counts were conducted.  She said there were two peak times, just prior and after 8 a.m. and just prior and after 5 p.m. “These are peak times,” she said. “We also did site analysis where I traveled the area and the alternate routes.”  McDaniel said the alternate routes through the city were not analyzed.

“We only analyze state routes. For this project, that included only Williams Avenue to Keyser Avenue and down Front Street.” She said the first month would be the worst for traffic. “Approximately 600 cars travel eastbound, from Front Street to Williams Avenue in the morning peak and approximately 350 westbound. In the afternoon the numbers are pretty much reversed,” she said. “Once people determine their alternate routes things will settle down. Usually in these situations people find their own route using back streets to avoid delays.”  With traffic diverted to Touline, it would be taken off Church Street. Buchanan said DOTD studies said there were up to 11,000 motorists crossing the Church Street Bridge daily. “We have to look at every aspect to find safety and flow of traffic.”  Additional delays during the entirety of the project would be an average of 8-10 minutes. McDaniel said this is where commuters will find their best alternative. “Some will leave earlier to adjust for the delays. Others will drive in off peak hours.” Some of the questions posed to the engineers were construction during the holiday season. Mayor Lee Posey asked if construction could begin in January, with seven months allotted for constructing the temporary bridge, which would put demolition on Church Street Bridge in July or August. He asked if demolition could be halted during the holidays.

The engineers said nothing was off the table, but such an option would require additional bids from contractors. Another question was the possibility of making the Touline Bridge permanent. “The temporary bridge has to go away,” Douet said. “It is constructed to be temporary. It won’t meet permanent specifications. Also, the contract will be for building and removal.” Emergency vehicle routing was also a concern. Douet said emergency responders would utilize the Keyser Avenue Bridge. Yet another concern was with safety in the construction sites of both bridges. Douet said the majority of the construction processes and the demolition would be done from a work barge in Cane River.  This would adversely affect the paddle boat anticipated to operate on the Cane River with tours launching from the Rue Beauport Riverbank. Posey said he had already mentioned the issue to the riverboat company so they could come up with a “Plan B” for that time period.  Posey also said festivals, including Meat Pie and Jazzfest, would have to operate on only one end of the riverbank. The stage area would not be adversely affected. “We will just have to adjust,” he said.  Costs of the project, estimated at $8-10 million, were discussed at the first meeting last December.

The project is in Stage two of six. Completion of Stage 1, the planning and environmental study that was initiated in 1998, is slated for completion in spring 2019. Estimated construction is tentatively slated for January 2024. The next step will be choosing between the options outlined above and presenting that plan to the public next spring.