UTICA — Starting next week, state-contracted crews will begin the transformation of a nearly one-mile portion of one of Utica’s main drags.

The $16.6 million project, designed by the state Department of Transportation, will implement significant changes over a projected two-and-a-half year period to Route 5S/Oriskany Street, from around the Adirondack Bank Center to Broad Street. Significant changes include narrowing the roadway and installing a roundabout at the John Street intersection.

DOT representatives have said the goal is to reduce accidents in the affected areas by 50 percent.

"Upgrading the Route 5S corridor will enhance a major entrance to Utica and its neighborhoods, while improving safety for all travelers," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "We will continue to invest in improvement projects like this, helping to rejuvenate communities, support local businesses and make New York an even better place to live, work and raise a family."

Work is scheduled to begin Monday — starting with tree removal and the relocation of utility services — and is expected to continue until significant completion in fall 2020, said regional DOT spokesman Jim Piccola.

The DOT road project will coincide with a separate project planned by the City of Utica. The first step of a two-phase storm sewer separation project, city engineers plan to install a storm drainage pipe into Route 5S/Oriskany Street, from Washington Street to about Broad Street. The size of the storm pipe will range between 24 to 78 inches in diameter within a trench as deep as 18 feet, said Assistant Engineer Stephanie Wurz.

Wurz said contractors will begin construction in a few weeks, focusing first on the principal areas where the city and DOT projects conflict, such as the John Street intersection. The city's goal is to have work in those areas done this summer with total project completion by November.

"We're working pretty much hand-in-hand to make sure both of our projects are successful and completed with little to no interruptions," Wurz said.

Here’s a breakdown of the DOT project:

Shrinking Oriskany Street

As it stands, the targeted portion of Route 5S/Oriskany Street is “overbuilt” for current traffic volumes as well as those projected for the next 20 years, said Brian Hoffmann, regional design engineer.

That is even with Mohawk Valley Health System’s downtown hospital project in mind.

The project is designed to bring a 25-acre hospital campus to the area of Oriskany, Columbia and State streets and Broadway.

“We had some traffic data from (Mohawk Valley Health System) that we utilized in our traffic models,” Hoffmann said. “Whether the hospital comes into downtown or not, our project will be exactly the same. We found that with their plans, there wasn’t a concentration of traffic at any one point that it was going to cause an issue.”

As such, the number of lanes in both directions will be reduced from three to two. As engineers have found motorists tend to drive faster with more lanes available, Hoffmann said the reduction should make the area safer — and less confusing — for drivers and pedestrians alike.

“By doing that, not only are we going to calm traffic and lower speeds, we’re also going to significantly shorten the distance for pedestrians to cross the intersection,” he said. “Bagg’s Square, and basically both sides of Genesee Street, is a developing and growing part of the city and there is a growing demand for pedestrians to be able to cross into Bagg’s Square from the downtown area and vice versa.”

In a similar vein, a portion of Jay Street — from Genesee Street to just before Second Street — will be closed to coincide with the lane reduction. Hoffmann said drivers headed east toward Broad Street still will have access to a ramp to Second Street.

Getting there, however, will first require drivers to navigate a roundabout at the John Street intersection.

Roundabout

Roundabouts — such as those found near Griffiss Business and Technology Park in Rome — have been increasingly utilized by the state DOT over the last few years due to their “tremendous safety level” as they virtually eliminate right-angle collisions and force traffic to enter at lower speeds, Hoffmann said.

Piccola said many accidents at the Genesee Street and John Street intersections are caused by improper left turns. He said all of the left-hand turns prohibited today will be allowed between the lane reconfiguration and the roundabout.

“It’ll be a little bit slower through this corridor, but that’s what we’re looking to do to make it much safer, not only for vehicular, but for pedestrian traffic because we see this whole area grower,” Piccola said.

Hoffmann said, “We did evaluate the feasibility of a roundabout at Genesee Street, but the size … wouldn’t fit in the available space without acquiring adjacent buildings. It just wasn’t feasible, so this will remain as a signalized intersection, as well, but that’s vastly improved over what’s there today.”

'Bike tracks'

Other changes include the following:

• Reducing the number of lanes along a portion of John Street, between Route 5S/Oriskany Street and Broad Street.

• Removing the slip ramp that allows northbound motorists on John Street to turn onto Broad Street, and another that allows westbound drivers on Broad Street to turn onto North Genesee Street. The two islands there also will be taken out.

• Removing, re-grading and seeding the closed southbound ramp to John Street from Genesee Street. The ramp was closed permanently in October 2015.

• Adding 5-foot-wide “bike tracks,” Hoffmann said, on both sides of Route 5S/Oriskany Street, between Broadway and John Street, as well as John Street, between Route 5S/Oriskany Street and Broad Street.

• Adding a traditional 6-foot-wide bicycle lane to Route 5S/Oriskany Street, from John Street to Broad Street.

The bicycle tracks will differ from a traditional on-street bike lane in that it will be between the curb and the sidewalk, Hoffmann said.

“It’s a very unique feature,” he said. “It’s to our understanding that this will be the first implementation of this in the upstate area. …There is a benefit from keeping the pavement width as narrow as possible to promote low speeds. By putting the cycle track behind the curb and off the roadway, it minimizes the width of the pavement and also continues to minimize the width pedestrians need to cross.”

Contact reporter Greg Mason at 315-794-5074 or follow him on Twitter (@OD_Mason).