City readies overhaul of Main, Carolina

Repairs and improvements should be underway by Jan. 1 on sidewalks, Main Street Mall and other unheralded companion pieces to a planned pedestrian and bicycling bridge over the Mississippi River.

It’s the beginning of the Main to Main Multi-Modal Connector Project, a $30 million-plus effort to connect central business districts of Memphis and West Memphis, Ark., by way of the Harahan Bridge. A $15 million federal transportation grant, matched by state, local and private funds, is paying for the project.

The Harahan boardwalk and a multiuse trail on the Arkansas side were sent back to the drawing board after bids came in high, more than doubling original estimates. Officials are confident a value engineering process will shave costs without sacrificing quality when the projects are rebid, probably early next year, said Paul Morris, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s project overseer.

In the meantime, the city will move ahead with less flashy aspects of Main to Main, which follows Main from Henry Street in the Uptown neighborhood on the north to Carolina on the south; takes Carolina west to the river; and includes a section of Front Street in Uptown.

While the Harahan Bridge has gotten most of the ink, Main to Main brings a side benefit that Downtown boosters have sought for years: upgrades of basic infrastructure neglected for decades.

A Downtown streetscape master plan in 2001 identified $100 million in needs, but progress has been limited to about $5 million to $6 million spent in key redevelopment areas. The Downtown Memphis Commission, which Morris serves as president, lost a 2010 bid for $16 million in federal transportation dollars for a Main Street project.

The bridge is “certainly exciting, but the Memphis piece provides functionality and the repairs that have been needed,” said Nisha Powers, president of Powers Hill Design LLC of Memphis, which designed planned improvements to Main and Carolina.

“Though it doesn’t have the same sizzle, it provides a lot of value,” Powers said. “It’s our front yard, and it’s very critical to how Downtown improves and the image that Downtown has when people come into town.”

Contractors will repair or replace broken sidewalks, curbs and gutters; fill in gaps where those amenities were never built or have been removed; and create a continuous pedestrian path that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Ada-related work includes correctly sloped sidewalk ramps at street crossings and a marked, wheelchair-accessible path at least three feet wide down the length of the Main Street Mall. Rail crossings will smooth passage over trolley tracks as part of a separate, $2.7 million Memphis Area Transit Authority project to renovate the trolley line.

The redesign will eliminate cast-iron grates around trees on the mall and either fill in with ground cover or build planter-type boxes. Trench drains, which run parallel to trolley tracks, will be replaced with conventional grate-covered storm drains.

Steve Hill, project engineer with Powers Hill, said there will be places on the mall where pavers have to be taken up and reset to achieve the desired maximum slope for wheelchairs. “We’re not talking about huge areas, we’re talking about 20- to 25-square-feet areas,” Hill said.

Uptown, the area north of A.W. Willis, has blocks missing sidewalks, curb and gutter along both Main and Front. The work on Front will be a collaborative effort of the Main to Main project and the Uptown development partnership. The street passes through mostly vacant industrial buildings that could be redeveloped for residential or other uses.

John Dudas, a Belz Enterprises representative on the Uptown project, said the result will be a pedestrian-friendly Front Street.

“We’re hoping the redevelopment of Front Street, which is in very bad shape now, will encourage revitalization of the properties along it. We’re hoping that a complete street will encourage adjoining property owners to improve their property. Right now it’s blighted, and not at all an attractive area.”

Up and down Main, more efficient and brighter LED lighting will be installed in existing light fixtures, and lighting will added beneath Interstate 40 on North Main and a CN railroad bridge on Carolina west of Main.

Bicycle lanes, primarily of the “Share the Road” or “sharrow” variety, will be marked on A.W. Willis, Front Street, G.E. Patterson, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Fourth. A 10-foot-wide multiuse path will be built on Front north of Willis to become part of a trail along the Memphis Harbor.

At intersections where there are trolley stops on North Main and South Main, off the mall, the design calls for bump-outs that make the road narrower and make it easier for pedestrians to cross.

The Downtown commission has been on a campaign the past couple years to improve sidewalks as part of anti-blight efforts.

The commission has gotten many property owners to fulfill their legal responsibility to replace sidewalks that are broken or no longer meet city codes.

Morris said the contracts on Main to Main provide unit pricing on sidewalks, so that the commission can continue to dun owners to have the work done themselves. If a sidewalk has to be replaced as part of Main to Main, the city will bill the owner after the fact.

In some cases, sidewalks and ramps that look serviceable will have to be replaced because they don’t meet stricter standards for wheelchair access, Hill said. “Someone will be watching the project and see a contractor tearing out a ramp and wonder why,” Hill said.

Morris said designers have found savings and improvements in the Harahan Bridge and Arkansas trail projects that were previously put out for bids. “We are redesigning both the bridge and the Arkansas trail and have found ways to improve the design on both of them. I expect there to be a better and less expensive design for both bridge and trail.”

The lowest bridge bid was $21.6 million, compared to an estimate of about $9 million to $10 million when the grant application was being prepared in 2012.

Morris said once Main and Carolina work begins, contractors will be under orders to cause as little disruption as possible for businesses.

“There obviously will be inconveniences, but we’re going to do it a block at a time,” Morris said.

  © 2013 Scripps Newspap