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City braces downtown for disruptions during culvert work

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Kevin Mulligan talks about the Town Creek Culvert Project in the City Council chambers Thursday, March 1, 2018.

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By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Friday, March 2, 2018

A $33 million upgrade to the Town Creek Culvert stormwater drainage system will close roadways for up to four months, limit access to the downtown area and may cause intermittent utility disruptions, but city officials said the work is necessary. 

On Thursday morning, at the first of a pair of public information meeting the city is holding about the project, Public Works Director Kevin Mulligan briefed a crowd of about 50 residents and business owners on the project’s schedule, scope and possible effects.

He said work is slated to begin this month, with an official groundbreaking ceremony on March 15. The project is scheduled to take 30 months to complete, but Mulligan said while he believes it is a reasonable estimate, the schedule is subject to how smoothly the work progresses.

To replace the culvert, crews will have to excavate 25-foot trenches to remove the old system, then place the new culvert piping, which weighs 2,500 pounds per foot, according to Mulligan.

“We’re going to see some unexpected things out there, there’s just no two ways about it, with the depth and type of excavation we’re creating,” he said. 

The Town Creek Culvert is responsible for draining stormwater from about 250 acres downtown and in adjacent areas. It begins near Ninth and Ficklen streets and continues to an outlet into the Tar River between Reade Circle and South Summit Street.

Approval to repair, replace and reconstruct the culvert system was given by the City Council during a October 2017 meeting.

Mulligan said the project will begin at the river, and slowly move the length of the culvert. While construction schedules are subject to change, he said residents could expect construction to be focused on the Town Common area and Third Street until August, when Fourth Street between Reade and South Summit streets will be closed. 

The city already has closed the gravel lot adjacent to the Town Common’s parking lot in order to house the contractor’s trailer and vehicles.

Mulligan said there are some pipes in the main parking lot that will have to replaced, but that work will completed quickly with minimal impact to residents. Additionally, the extension of the greenway between the bridge and the parking lot will be closed during the first phase of the project, but access to the bridge will remain open via a detour to First Street around the gravel lot. 

Near the end of the year, construction will close Fifth Street between Reade and South Summit streets. Mulligan said it is estimated this area will be closed for about four months. 

Detour routes will be marked for each road closing. Mulligan said no two intersections will be closed at the same time, to hopefully lessen traffic impacts and inconveniences.

Residents who attended the meeting mostly wanted to clarify project details. Some local business owners, like Tony Parker with University Book Exchange, asked about the city’s plan to keep downtown accessible during the later stages of the project. Specifically, Parker said he was concerned that students would not be able to get to downtown from campus during the Reade Circle stage of the project.

“The Uptown area relies a lot on pedestrians … coming off the campus, and we know if there’s a barrier lots of students won't cross that barrier,” he said.

Lisa Kirby, the project manger for the city, said the plans call for at least two access points for students from campus. In addition, Mulligan said, the city is planning to put out signage advertising the downtown business to help promote traffic into the area.

Portions of the culvert were built before 1935. As the city continues to develop and the aging culvert continues to deteriorate, flooding downtown has become of an increasing concern. On Jan. 1, 2016, a portion of the culvert underneath Third Street between Summit and Reade Streets collapsed during a storm, creating a gaping hole that has closed the road since.

Upgrades also were necessitated by the Tenth Street Connector project, which will direct stormwater from two other outfalls into the culvert and increase the amount of stormwater in the system.

Near the end of the meeting, City Manager Ann Wall assured those in attendance that she has asked city staff to  communicate with businesses and community partners. She said they will hold regular update meetings, and a newsletter will be sent out detailing the project’s progress.

“We’d like to thank you all in advance for your cooperation, this is a really big deal in our community, and a really big project,” she said. “We understand that there will some really big impacts, particularly for businesses, the university and downtown.”

The second information session will be held at 6 p.m. on Monday in the Council Chambers of City Hall. 

Contact Seth Gulledge at sgulledge@reflector.com and 252-329-9579. 

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