It's been a few years in the making, and now it's here – the first phase of the reconstruction of Old Woodward Avenue, between Willits and Brown streets in downtown Birmingham, which will officially begin with the assembly of a safety barrier on Wednesday, March 21, and then closure of the road on Monday, March 26, as the project begins.
The reconstruction of Old Woodward will transform the city’s downtown core with improvements to its aging underground infrastructure and significant enhancements to the above ground streetscape. The planned road project will shut down the center of downtown Birmingham along Old Woodward from Willits to Brown, and W. Maple Road from just past the store Suhm-Thing and part of E. Maple.
The road requires a complete reconstruction, similar to Pierce Street and Hamilton in previous years, in 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 – with some sewers dating to the late 1800s. The underground improvements include installation of a new water main, replacing the still functioning system that dates back to 1889. In addition, new sewer lines will be installed, as several are near the end of their service life. Other underground infrastructure improvements include installation of a city-owned electrical system that will allow for greater lighting options downtown as well as providing charging stations for mobile devices.
The above ground improvements will provide for an enhanced streetscape with wider sidewalks and handicap accessible curbs along with mid-block crosswalks, adding to the walkability of the downtown core.
“We believe the necessary improvements to the underground infrastructure and above ground streetscape will create a new, up-to-date shopping and business environment that our residents, merchants and stakeholders will enjoy for years to come,” said Joe Valentine, Birmingham City Manager.
The city is working to get everything ready for a smooth construction period for all involved. City engineer Paul O’Meara said pre-construction activities, such as the assembly of the safety barrier and the lining of sewers in the project area, are being done before the start of construction in order to help complete the project as fast possible. “By taking these steps prior to the projected road closure on March 26, we are anticipating there will be less digging needed, which will help us stay on our timeline and complete the project as fast as possible,” said O’Meara.
The city and Birmingham Shopping District (BSD) are working to alleviate the impact the construction project will have on merchants and restaurants, holding monthly meetings with merchants to inform them on the latest developments and timeline for the project. The city, through its BSD promotional arm, will enact a “Pave the Way” marketing initiative, to keep downtown accessible for shoppers during construction.
“Our Pave the Way initiative includes free valet parking stations at strategic locations around the city as well as enhanced lighting, signage, activities and incentives – such as our Birmingham Bonus Bucks program – to help the public stay engaged during the construction,” said Ingrid Tighe, executive director of the BSD. “Downtown will be open for business and we encourage the public to support our merchants.”
Angelo Iafrate Construction Co. received the approved $7 million contract for 125 days of work with a targeted substantial completion date of July 27, 2018. The agreement includes significant financial incentives to Iafrate for early completion as well as substantial penalties if the work is not done on time. Other conditions in the approved contract include a six-day a week work schedule, with extended hours encouraged.
During the Old Woodward reconstruction, most alleys will remain open to through traffic, other than the Maple entrance to the Willits Alley. E. Merrill Street and Hamilton will both be dead end streets for the duration of the construction period.