Early January targeted for completion of South Roan Street construction

Gary B. Gray • Dec 20, 2013 at 10:00 PM

A three-month blockade of a portion of South Roan Street will disappear the first week in January when the relatively short but well-traveled stretch of road re-opens following major infrastructure improvements.

Motorists, business owners and visitors have endured delays due to weather, a water pipe rupture and other unexpected discoveries, but significant underground sewer and water repairs that were long overdue are now complete. New utilities are in place, final paving is under way and the finishing touches, including decorative brick intersections and crosswalks as well as new streetlights, will complete a crucial phase of downtown repair.

The project on South Roan between State of Franklin Road and East Main Street began in early September. Johnson City’s Public Works Department handled the bulk of the work, which was conducted with the goal of establishing a foundation for long-term use and future development.

“I realize it’s been an inconvenience to businesses and motorists,” Assistant Public Works Director Mike Arsenault said Friday. “We thought it would be ready by Thanksgiving, but the utility work took a little longer than we expected, and we lost some time due to bad weather.”

Arsenault said during the excavation process workers found red brick once was used for travel for a new technical innovation, the automobile. The city saved three dump truck loads of the bricks stamped with the date on which they were installed: 1908.

“We saved as many as possible with the intent of using them as an accent at the intersections,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll carry that theme as we continue improvements downtown. We’ll be taking samples underneath the road from the next phase, which is South Roan between Buffalo Street to East Market Street.”

Arsenault said construction at this section likely will begin after the Blue Plum Festival in June.

At the current phase, workers will be installing a prefabricated material especially designed with raised “bumps” at each corner. These areas will be gradually sloping and are intended to aid handicapped people traversing the streets. Elizabethton’s Summers-Taylor will be finishing the paving and striping in the next week, and the Johnson City Power Board will install three new, though antique in style, streetlights to match others going up at the various phases of downtown construction.

“We hope to pour a large portion of the concrete at the corners Monday and Tuesday, but we won’t be back to fully complete them until New Year’s week,” he said. “But I’m pretty confident the road will be open by the end of that first week. Part of the agreement with the Paxton Place developer is that, at their expense, they will reset the signal control cabinets at State of Franklin and South Roan. I’m told they anticipate having that done by mid-January.”

When that’s done, the city will come back and install the decorative brick and any other work that is its responsibility near the new complex. Arsenault said he has not “run the numbers” on the costs incurred from labor and materials by the Public Works Department.

A combination of public investments, such as the Founders Park project, the streetscaping of downtown roads and the planned farmers market building, along with private investments like Renasant Bank and Tupelo Honey in the downtown area, prompted the need for water/sewer improvements and improvements to other utilities.

The basic idea is to stay a step ahead of infrastructure needs that are developing now and potentially could develop in the downtown area.

The Washington County Economic Development Council said private-sector investment in downtown has totaled more than $18 million since mid-2012. Shannon Castillo, WCEDC director of redevelopment, has said that the type of growth occurring throughout downtown is one reason the city of Johnson City and other service providers are upgrading infrastructure. Additional phases are planned as well, heading in the direction of Buffalo Street.

But there’s no denying downtown water and sewer pipes, and other downtown utilities, simply needed to be tended to because of their age.

“We found that a portion of waterline under that section of Roan actually predated the brick,” Arsenault said about the at least 106-year-old pipe running under one of Johnson City’s busiest downtown locations.

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