Dust off your patience. Here we go again.
It was just last year when the state Department of Transportation wrapped up five years of highway reconstruction that disrupted a major transportation artery through downtown Utica. Actually, if you include the many advance public meetings, the $66.5 million arterial project was more than a decade in the making.
All in all, it went quite well.
It went quite well because of two major factors: Communication and cooperation. The DOT's Jim Piccola proved to be an invaluable resource, and his constant updates helped the media maintain a direct connection with a motoring public that managed to navigate from here to there despite detours and other kinks in the normal traffic patterns. Motorists, maybe a bit frustrated at times, were cooperative, and the resulting highway is a gem.
Now, another project looms. Though not quite as intense, a $16.6 million transformation of a one-mile stretch of Route 5S/Oriskany Street from Broadway to Broad Street once again will test motorist mettle. Disruption is back and changes will be significant, including the narrowing of the highway and the addition of a roundabout at the John Street intersection.
When completed about two-and-a-half years from now, it, too, should be a gem. DOT officials said the goal is to reduce accidents in the affected areas by 50 percent.
To be sure, it's a nasty stretch. It's overbuilt for the traffic volume it handles, DOT regional design engineer Brian Hoffmann says, and the redesign will fix that by reducing the current three lanes to two, which is likely to result in slower speeds. If that doesn't slow down motorists - many of whom go much too fast through here - a roundabout at the John Street intersection will.
The John/Oriskany street intersection is literally an accident waiting to happen. And happen they do. We here at the Observer-Dispatch have a bird's eye view of it all, and rarely a week passes when the crunching of fenders doesn't add to the urban cacophony outside our window. The biggest offense: motorists making illegal turns. Left turns from all points here are prohibited. (One exception is when headed east on 5S, an arrow allows a left onto John from a third turning lane.)
A roundabout will change all that. As with roundabouts at Utica's Oneida Square, the Marcy-SUNYIT Parkway and Griffiss Business and Technology Park in Rome, it will virtually eliminate right-angle collisions and force traffic to enter at lower speeds. And due to the nature of a roundabout, 5S/John Street motorists will have safe access to adjoining roads from all directions.
Further improvements that will allow left turns will be made at the Oriskany-5S/Genesee Street intersection. They are currently prohibited and again, often the cause of accidents there. Bicycle lanes will also be woven into the project, making the city more user-friendly. Narrowing the highway to two lanes also will make it easier for pedestrians to cross.
Piccola said the DOT expects to begin the project Monday beginning with tree removal. If all goes as planned, it'll be completed by the fall of 2020.
The 5S redesign will coincide with a separate project planned by the city. 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. Assistant Engineer Stephanie 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.
There will be disruptions. This is an exceptionally busy highway - a major east-west thoroughfare - and as with the recently completed arterial project we would expect the DOT to maintain the same high level of communication with the public to make it as smooth a ride as possible. By the same token, motorists should be alert to temporary changes and show the same courtesy and patience as before. We are fortunate that our city is getting an infrastructure facelift that will be critical to future growth.