The Birmingham downtown road projects

December 1, 2016

The holiday season may be here, but in Birmingham, they're also planning for that other important season – road construction in 2017, most notably, next year's road project, where Old Woodward will be reconstructed between Willits and Brown, right in the heart of downtown Birmingham. 

This is a really necessary road improvement project, and one the city has been working on for several years. Beginning in 2013, the city of Birmingham began to address the aging infrastructure in the core of the central business district with portions of Pierce Street from Maple to Merrill and Merrill Street from Pierce to Old Woodward undergoing a complete rebuilding. This past year, Hamilton Avenue was reconstructed from Old Woodward to Woodward Avenue. These projects included new water lines, sewer lines and the repaving of roads, followed by new lighting and streetscaping. 

The reason these roads are being completely reconstructed is that these areas have some of the oldest water and sewer lines in Birmingham, as well as a streetscape that is on a different grade than the road. Much of this current infrastructure was installed in the 1940s and has exceeded its useful life. Some parts of the city, including Old Woodward, date back to the early part of the 20th century, with wood sidewalks underneath the current cement, and water mains and sewers that are as old as well. 

City staff – management, planners, engineers – along with the Birmingham Shopping District (BSD), have been working to communicate with retailers and residents, hosting meetings and providing information on the city's website. We are heartened that a fair number of merchants attended a recent BSD presentation, voicing legitimate concerns because it is very important they be heard.

There are currently two streetscape plans for Old Woodward still under consideration, which will come before both the multi-modal transportation committee and the city commission on Monday, November 21, after this publication goes to press, but it may not be voted on at the commission meeting. A primary concern of retailers is a recommendation to install “reverse parking” – where drivers would have to pull ahead of the angled parking spot and then back into the spot. Hypothetically, it's a traffic calming device, but that area of Old Woodward does not typically have speeding. It also encourages U-turns, which no one wants. 

Another concern is that in one of the plans – a far more expensive, time-intensive plan – would incorporate brick pavers into crosswalks, center turn lanes and other spots. There would also be granite curbs and raised tree wells. While beautiful, bricks can be treacherous, difficult for those with handicap issues, and both granite and brick pose greater slip-and-fall issues. There are terrific texturizing options available – with much greater cost savings – to the more basic concrete treatment proposed.

Merchants are also concerned about how they will get their deliveries during construction, as well as street narrowing and bump outs on corners that can cause trucks to jump onto sidewalks as they turn, creating an unsafe environment. 

These and many other issues are ones city staff and commissioners must reconcile in order to keep the city operating as the well-oiled machine it is during the 2017 road construction season in order for retailers and visitors to continue to enjoy the city and allow it to continue prospering.

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