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Stormwater at forefront of downtown Erwin revitalization

Brad Hicks • Apr 7, 2014 at 9:35 PM

ERWIN — Aesthetic and infrastructure improvements to Erwin’s downtown area will continue to take shape in the coming months as work on the second phase of the town’s downtown revitalization project is now under way.

Erwin Public Works Director Mark Lafever said work, which began April 1, is currently focused on the stormwater component. Lafever said crews began this work on Nolichucky Avenue and are working their way up Union Street, completing water, sewer and electrical improvements along the way.

Addressing stormwater issues that plague the downtown area after heavy rainfalls is a major component of the revitalization project’s second phase, Lafever said. To address this, a box culvert is being installed. This culvert will take excess water down to Nolichucky Avenue, where it would be routed into a drainage system that goes through the nearby railroad property and takes the water to the nearby creek.

For now, much of the work will remain contained along Union Street. Lafever said it may be three to four weeks before construction begins along Main Avenue. Once construction moves from Union Street to Main Avenue, work at the Gay Street intersection will be tackled first, Lafever said.

“We’re going to try and keep traffic flowing back and forth on Main to try to make sure those businesses are taken care of as far as traffic flow goes,” he said.

The Gay Street intersection will be built in halves to keep traffic flowing along Main Avenue. Once work at the intersection is completed, construction will move to the section of Main Avenue from Gay Street to Union Street. Lafever said this stretch of downtown will be closed once construction begins.

In the summer of 2011, the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved an agreement with Nashville-based planning firm Kimley-Horn and Associates to develop a master plan for the project. The firm’s plan was approved by the town’s board in February 2012.

The project was undertaken to not only bring aesthetic and infrastructure improvements to the downtown area but was also done to bring the district into Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. The first phase, which covered the area of Main Avenue from Tucker Street to Gay Street, was completed in September and included the widening of sidewalks, installation of new lighting and installation of underground utilities.

Lafever said the area along Main Avenue covered by the project’s second phase will look similar to that of the first phase was work is complete.

“It’s going to look just like what we’ve already done, maybe a few more benches, and there’s going to be some bike racks and some more trees,” he said. “It’s essentially going to follow the streetscape we already have in place with the first phase.”

In February, the board approved a bid from Summers Taylor Inc., to complete the second and third phases of the project. The construction company submitted a base bid of approximately $2,995,000.

Lafever said the goal is to have the second phase completed by the 2014 Unicoi County Apple Festival, which will be held the first Friday and Saturday in October.

“Everything is supposed to be done by Sept. 20, Sept. 22, somewhere in there, which gives a week, week and a half, to make sure everything’s clear and cleaned up for the Apple Festival,” Lafever said.

Work on third phase is set to begin after the festival. This phase will cover the area along Main Avenue from Union Street to around Church Street and is expected to be completed in the early part of 2015.

Lafever said town officials have received positive feedback on the first phase and that the majority of downtown business owners are happy with the completed work. He said the project, once finished, will not only aid already-established businesses but “add more to the table” for those interested in setting new businesses in downtown Erwin.

“I think one of the main concerns is that people thought it was going to hamper traffic flow in and around downtown in your car, but realistically, it’s done its job,” he said. “It’s slowed traffic down.”

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