Construction crews continue work in downtown Erwin near the intersection of Gay Street and South Main Avenue. (Photos by Brad Hicks/Johnson City Press)
ERWIN — Since work on the second phase of Erwin’s downtown revitalization project began in April, it has been hard not to notice the construction crews in the area.
But according to town officials, Erwin residents will soon notice something else with regard to the project — above-ground progress.
“You’re going to be able to see a difference on Main Street within the next two to three weeks,” said Erwin Public Works Director Mark Lafever.
Lafever said for the past three months, crews have worked diligently along Union Street and Main Avenue, although much of this work cannot be seen by the public. He said new underground utilities, which include sewer lines, water lines and new storm drains, have been installed along Union Street.
A vital component of the project’s second phase was the installation of a new box culvert, which will address downtown flooding by taking excess water from Union Street to Nolichucky Avenue, where it will be routed into a drainage system and taken to the nearby creek. Lafever said this stormwater system work has been completed.
Crews have turned onto Main Avenue and should finish the installation of new underground utilities there within the next couple of weeks. He also said grading and concrete work on the lower portion of Union Street has started, and crews will continue to work their way up the street.
“They’ve got the curb and gutter poured about three-quarters of the way up Union Street, and then they’ll be going across the Union Street intersection with that probably next week,” Lafever said Thursday.
“So you’re going to start seeing a difference in what’s happening on top of the ground. You’re not just going to see them digging a hole and then filling it back in the next day. So even though it doesn’t look like they’re done much, everything underground is brand new. That’s a huge part of the process that people can’t see is all the utilities that are brand new.”
In February, the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved a $2,995,000 base bid from Summers-Taylor Inc., the same firm that completed the revitalization project’s first phase, to complete the second and third phases of the project. Prior to this, the board had approved a resolution authorizing the town to borrow up to $3.5 million in funds to complete the remaining revitalization project.
The second phase of the project covers the area along Main Avenue from Gay Street to Union Street. The revitalization project as a whole was undertaken with the aim of bringing aesthetic and infrastructure improvements to the downtown area. In 2011, Erwin officials approved an agreement with planning firm Kimley-Horn and Associates to develop a master plan for the project. This plan was approved by town officials in February 2012.
Lafever said crews have a deadline of Sept. 22 to complete the second phase of construction to ensure it is finished ahead of the Unicoi County Apple Festival, which will take place in early October. He said it’s looking like this deadline will be met “for sure,” adding that there’s a chance work could be finished sooner.
“Right now we’re on schedule,” Lafever said. “Everything’s went super smooth. We’ve not run into any issues, just a couple of issues with the hard rains, but nothing that’s not been taken care of in a timely manner.”
Once complete, the second phase of the project will resemble the project’s first phase, which covered the area of Main Avenue from Tucker Street to Gay Street and was completed in September. Like the first phase, Lafever said Phase II will include streetscaping and new sidewalks and is designed to enhance draining and calm traffic.
Another component of the second phase is improvements to the Gay Street intersection. Up to this point, crews have managed to keep the intersection clear, but starting next week, work will extend out into the intersection, Lafever said. Although he said crews will work to ensure that traffic keeps flowing, he suggested that those wishing to visit businesses on the lower portion of Gay Street access them from Nolichucky Avenue.
“They’re still going to be able to drive through here and turn left or right, but not both, because we’re going to have to do this intersection in halves and there may be a point where we have to close it down for several days in a row, but it’s going to be minimal,” Lafever said.
Lafever said work on the project’s third phase, which will cover the area along Main Avenue from Union Street to around Church Street, will likely begin within three to four months of the completion of Phase II.