By Esther Shim
A hazardous and hilly road is about to be reconstructed for the sake of the Athens, Ga., community.
The S. Milledge Avenue at Whitehall Road intersection is dangerous for commuters due to hilly conditions that prevent proper sight of other drivers around curves, according to the Transportation and Public Works committee.
The Mayor and Commission approved the award for the Whitehall Road and S. Milledge Avenue intersection reconstruction and hill reduction project proposal at the regular meeting on March 3, 2015.
The Whitehall Hill Reduction Improvements Project was approved as a subproject of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) 2011 Program’s Road and Bridge Improvements and Replacement Program (Project #26), according to the project history. The project idea began in November 2010 to create safer driving paths for the community.
The S. Milledge Avenue at Whitehall Road intersection is a well-traveled and traffic heavy road. The Transportation and Public Works committee’s mission is to repair the vertical curve on Whitehall Road and improve vehicle sight distance to prevent dangerous driving. In addition to reducing the hill on the curve, the committee also plans to construct a roundabout at the intersection for efficient commuting and better traffic flow, according to the project package.
These improvements will be beneficial to college students as well as other community members who travel to Athens for work. The Mayor and Commission approved the Preliminary Construction Plan for the project on April 2, 2014, and the project was advertised for construction on December 18, 2014, according to the package.
The bid opening was scheduled for for January 22, 2015, with several companies such as Structural Resources, Inc., Pittman Construction Co., and E.R. Snell Contractor Inc., placing the lowest bids. At the Agenda Setting Meeting on February 17, 2015, committee members recommended that the Mayor and Commission award a contract of $561,700.95 for the Whitehall Road Hill Reduction Project to E.R. Snell Contractor, Inc.
The contract was the most cost efficient of the competing contractors, and the committee asked that the contract and award be approved at the March 3rd Mayor and Commission Regular Meeting.
One concern of the construction project was that the roads would have to be closed during renovations. This would cause a couple of months of detouring through Watkinsville and Oconee County.
The construction project will begin in April 2015 and the expected completion date is by September 2015, according to the Athens-Banner Herald. Around this time, there is an expected increase in traffic with a number of detour signs placed in the general vicinity of construction.
Traffic is expected to start as early as May, while schools are in session, in preparation of construction, according to the Athens-Banner Herald. The intersection of S. Milledge Avenue at Whitehall Road is expected to be closed until late July.
Athen’s citizens can expect additional improvements such as bicycle lanes, wider roads, and a sidewalk as well, according to the project package.
For further information as well as snapshots of the intersection improvement project concepts, take a look at the following sites:
By Brittney Cain
After living in busy downtown Athens for 2 years, Lauren Klopfenstein has learned the ropes for getting around problems.
She has found a way to deal with one of the most common annoyances—loud noises.
Klopfenstein’s best advice is to find a different place where it is quiet to get schoolwork and studying done, since downtown isn’t always the best place.
When signing a lease downtown most people think they are aware of the living conditions, but not all actually are.
The growing heaps of trash, loud noises, and run-ins with intoxicated students are often the biggest issues with students and residents of downtown.
One “annoyance” often overlooked is parking in downtown Athens.
More residents are choosing to live downtown, officials say, because of the close proximity to the University of Georgia campus and convenience.
According to a 2012 study of Athens, nearly 2,000 people lived in the downtown Athens area.
Jack Crowley, head of the downtown Athens master plan project, believes that with recent and current construction of residential areas, numbers are set to more than double in the next few years.
With growing number of residents in the downtown area, annoyances are unavoidable.
Here are some tips from current residents and public officials.Trash remains one of the biggest problems with living downtown, according to UGA student Hannah Lech. In addition to being a resident for a year, she also works downtown.
“I work at Athens Bagel Company downtown and can see all of the trash and litter piled up early in the morning,” Hannah Lech responded when asked about the claims of trash.
Among the Athens-Clarke County’s most commonly broken codes, unlawful dumping and littering can be seen downtown.
Garbage is collected by the Solid Waste Department in the downtown district. If garbage isn’t picked up on the proper days, residents can call the main office at 706-613-3501.
Living above Whiskey Bent, Hannah Lech also finds the noise to be disturbing.
“I can usually tell what song is being played at the bar below by the shaking of my floor. It can get pretty loud even on weekdays,” said Hannah Lech.
She suggested future residents invest in earplugs or stay up late enough that they will immediately fall asleep despite the noise below.
Athens-Clarke County Staff Sergeant, Derek Scott, said “we notify bars if they are playing loud music after hours to prevent potential complaints from the residents of downtown.”
Another annoyance is one that is sometimes unavoidable.
Dealing with intoxicated students is bound to happen with nearly 80 bars downtown.
Christian Conover, a junior at the University of Georgia, said, “dealing with intoxicated students is annoying, but I think this comes with living in a college town and can only be fixed by increasing police presence and cracking down on underage drinking.”
Professor John Newton specializes in Criminal Justice at the University of Georgia.
He said that the main problem with intoxicated students is the threat of large crowds and disorderly behavior of those intoxicated students.
Professor Newtown said, “I would be concerned about the unpredictable nature of intoxicated people who may be more likely to resist with violence than a sober person.”
A tip for dealing with these unpredictable “drunks” is to travel in small groups if possible to avoid conflict, and for those that are deciding to drink to be responsible and aware of those that live downtown.
Although trash, noise and inebriated students are annoyances that you would think of when living downtown, most people are unaware of parking situations.
Danny Boardman, a resident on Broad Street, continues to be annoyed with the parking situation. Not only are there small amounts of parking spaces available, but also the parking tickets given are beginning to increase.
Even though there are 750 short-term, pay as you go parking spots along downtown streets and 4 pay lots; it can be difficult to find parking for guests close to residential lofts and apartments.
“I have to be prepared to drive around downtown to find parking spots. Parking is free on Sunday, so it’s the worst that day,” Lauren Klopfenstein said about the new annoyance of parking issues.
Despite all of the minor issues and annoyances of living in a downtown area, Hannah Lech claims, “she wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.” She fully recommends others give it a try.
By Ashton Adams
When City Engineer James Barnett developed a plan to install underground piping through downtown Athens in 1914, he certainly did not expect these pipes to remain in their place a century later.
Yet, there they lie and Athens construction crews will soon be encountering them and much more underneath the city’s streets.
“Speaking professionally, our department can map out and describe what crews will be running into during construction. Cracked pipes, leaking, rust. Those types of things,” said S.P.L.O.S.T Program Administrator Donald Martin. “However, when we speculate about the downtown area, knowing it is about 200 years old, we know we are bound to run into some interesting finds.”
Crews received the green light to begin excavation underneath Clayton Street after city officials approved a $7.1 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax project last year. This year long downtown streetscape project, which began in February, will focus on repairing and upgrading the in-ground utilities along Clayton Street and will conclude in August.
With or without specialist consultation, pieces of Athens’ history remain underground and crews will soon become privy to what lies below.
Generations of city developers since the start of the 20th century have had a history of paving or backfilling entire structures in an attempt to cut back on funds. Janine Duncan, a campus planning coordinator at the University of Georgia and member of the Athens Historical Commission, believes that many of these structures remain where they stood a century ago, surrounded by inches of thick paving material.
“History shows that humans have always taken the path of least resistance. What has resulted in Athens’ case is a lot of structures getting backfilled,” Duncan said. “By working with archaeologists and anthropologists here in Athens, we can distinguish human activity from a century ago. Human activity remains as a scar.”
According to Duncan, the city stands almost a foot taller than it did in 1914 because of the countless layers of pavement that have been laid over the years.
And underneath the pavement are indicators of the city’s age.
“Chances are, what crews will find below ground are remnants of century-old paving bricks, Belgian block and entire water cisterns that horses and mules once drank out of,” Duncan confirmed.
Crews will see trolley tracks that once split the downtown area and ran down Lumpkin Street and various side streets as well. This railway service ran from 1885 until 1930 when G.I.’s returning home from WWII were hired to disassemble the tracks.
When it comes to underground utilities, both Martin and Duncan agree that the pipes installed in 1914 still remain in their place and are in good condition.
“I don’t think city developers a century ago built some of these underground utilities with an intention that they would remain there today,” Duncan said. “On the other hand, crews in the early 1900’s were using withstanding material like glazed terracotta and cast iron for the piping. I believe the city was putting more money into its projects than what today’s city would be doing.”
Smaller objects such as railroad ties, rough-stone stairs, fences, wells and outhouses from the early 20th century have been found under Broad and Clayton Streets.
Duncan, with the help of professor of anthropology Erv Garrison, has been able to scan the ground in and around downtown Athens and discover outlines of human disturbances underground.
Scanning these areas with radar and electromagnetometer equipment, Duncan confirmed that specific areas downtown also show to be areas of interest for archaeologists.
“The areas downtown where I can guarantee archaeologists will uncover human disturbances are in those small interior alley ways that run behind most buildings,” Duncan said. “They have virtually been left untouched since downtown’s original construction.”
It has been 40 years since crews have done an excavation project like this one, and one local administrator has been present for both.
“The last time Athens went underground like this, crews and officials were surprised at how well the piping had held together. Even then that was shocking to us,” said Glenn Coleman, assistant director for the Public Utilities Department. “And during our pre-construction evaluation on Clayton Street last year, we were yet again shocked. The cast iron piping below ground has evaded rusting, cracks and decay for so many years. It really is impressive.”
Per requirements of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966, S.P.L.O.S.T officials had to take into account their undertakings on historic properties, above and below ground, and allow opportunity for an advisory council on historic preservation to comment on the project. Martin said the S.P.L.O.S.T department fulfilled these requirements.
“We have certainly been in coordination with the Historic Preservation Commission in order to make sure we do not impact anything from a historical standpoint,” Martin said.
However, conflicting reports from a member of the commission revealed that S.P.L.O.S.T officials had not consulted the Historical Commission as previously stated.
“From my standpoint, city officials have commonly avoided approaching the Commission about local projects because they regard it as a pain or a waste of time,” Duncan said. “There is a preconceived notion with developers that if they consult the Historic Commission, they will not be able to proceed with their work and that is not the case whatsoever.”
Amber Eskew, Preservation Specialist for the city’s Planning Department also said she knew nothing about the S.P.L.O.S.T-funded project and had not been consulted or involved with the project in any way.
This Clayton Street underground construction will be the last of its kind for decades. Any replaced piping will remain where it is for another 60 to 70 years. Construction will be done on a block-by-block basis beginning on E. Clayton Street. Work will be minimal, non-disruptive and nearly invisible to the common passerby.
By Emily Curl
As Carley Gainous walks up Broad Street every day, she confronts the SunTrust building construction.
“There are fewer parking spaces around my lot and portions of the sidewalk are closed,” she says. ” I know it’s temporary, but it has been harder getting to and from class.”
Gainous is not the only one faced with the hassles of construction. She is an example of what pedestrians, business owners, and workers experience with downtown construction: temporary inconvenience followed by an improved downtown.
Construction is nothing new to downtown Athens, but projects taking place this year are expected to bring major disturbances and changes to downtown development.
The SunTrust building’s neighboring property redevelopment, along with the Clayton Streetscape infrastructure work, are two of the largest projects occurring simultaneously downtown. Many businesses anticipate an initial loss, but hope upon completion the new construction improves the downtown area and attracts more customers.
After interviewing pedestrians, business owners, and employees, a temporary disruption and loss is anticipated, but ultimately, once downtown construction is complete, businesses are expected to return to normal or even experience a rise in business, and pedestrians can look forward to an improved downtown.
While both projects promise limited disturbances, businesses and pedestrians are already beginning to feel an impact. The Clayton Street infrastructure project is expected to last until mid 2015 according to SPLOST Project Manager Derek Doster. And according to reports on OnlineAthens.com, the multiuse development in progress beside the SunTrust building is not expected to be complete until Summer 2015, leaving businesses and pedestrians to deal with the construction for another year.
This is not the first time large-scale construction has appeared downtown. After fire damage in 2009, the Georgia Theatre began a major reconstruction project. Ophelia Culpepper, an employee of Horton’s Drug Store remembered the construction on the corner of West Clayton and North Lumpkin Streets.
“It was pretty noisy, but if anything, I think the construction helped business, especially once the construction was complete.” she said. “The construction workers came into the store often to buy snacks and drinks, but I think it would have been different if we were more of a specialty store.”
When asked about the new construction beginning on Clayton Street, Culpepper was worried that parking might be a problem, but she hopes to once again gain business from the construction workers.
While Horton’s Drug Store may not be facing a decrease in sales, many other businesses are already feeling a loss.
With jackhammers buzzing and bulldozers in action just steps away from the front door of Heery’s Too, employee Martha Easton McLemore already noticed business has been slower than usual.
“[The construction] has definitely affected the flow of customers in the store and all the heavy machinery outside seems to turn people away,” McLemore said. ” It’s really loud and a hassle, but I do think Clayton needs a facelift. I can only hope all this [construction] will be worth it.”
According to the Athens- Clarke County Downtown Streetscapes Improvements website, the infrastructure of Clayton Street is expected to be improved and upgraded. Utility, sidewalk, and exterior improvements are all expected to bring multiple benefits to businesses and pedestrians. The benefits include water system and street light improvements, wider sidewalks, and improved crosswalks.
Work will also be done in sections in hopes to minimize disturbances and so the entire street will not be affected at once, according to Doster. He expects large traffic or parking problems to be very limited.
According to the website of the construction company in charge of the SunTrust building redevelopment, Juneau Construction Company, “the project will consist of more than 300,000 square feet of a mix of retail, apartment, and restaurant space. Five stories of apartments totaling 266 units and 165,000 square feet will sit above one level of retail totaling more than 40,000 square feet and below grade parking that will consist of 266 parking spaces.”
Another downtown business affected by the construction is Private Gallery, an apparel store located on Clayton Street. When asked about the construction, employee Jordan Garner was not happy about the noise surrounding the work but agreed that Clayton Street needed street and sidewalk improvements.
“Once this is all done, I think we will have more customers stopping by the store and all other stores on Clayton in general,” Garner said.
When asked about the SunTrust building redevelopment Garner added “When people live downtown they are more likely to shop downtown as well. I hope we will gain some more customers as people move towards downtown.”
The new apartments, along with street improvements, also have Cat Bobon, owner of Cillies Clothing, hopeful for the future of her business.
“It’s a pain now since the construction is taking up parking spaces, but I know it will eventually be for the best. I haven’t had many customers today, but hopefully that changes soon,” Bobon said.
Cillies Clothing is a vintage store located on Clayton Street, and while the business profits on customers buying clothing and accessories from the store, they also count on customers to sell the store their gently used apparel.
Although this is the largest construction to take place recently in downtown Athens, if businesses and pedestrians can cooperate with the construction, they will ultimately benefit. While businesses may be beginning to experience a loss now, that loss is seen as temporary and business owners can expect to return to normal or better after construction completion.
“More people living downtown just means more opportunities [for the business] to buy and sell, which is always a good thing,” Bobon says. “And once the street is in better shape, even more people will want to come shop on Clayton.”