The connector linking Little Richard Penniman Boulevard to the downtown stretch of Second Street will open in 18 months, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert announced Friday morning.
He spoke at a groundbreaking ceremony for the road, part of his Second Street Corridor project, on an athletic field that until recently belonged to Mercer University. Full-scale construction work is set to begin Tuesday.
Reichert and nine others representing Macon-Bibb, associated agencies, Mercer and contractors donned white hard hats and tossed shovelfuls of red dirt. Workers from Chris R. Sheridan & Co. and subcontractors will soon do much more.
“They’re actually going to be out here moving dirt in a big way next Tuesday, on Tuesday morning,” Reichert said.
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The connector is being built with most of the $8 million allocated for Second Street in the 2011 special purpose sales tax initiative. Plans call for a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly street, landscaped and attractive to small businesses, linking Mercer University with downtown and the east bank of the Ocmulgee River. Bonds approved last year included another $3 million for the bridge and other improvements in the Second Street Corridor.
“This is not a high-speed thoroughfare,” Reichert said.
The dream of directly linking Mercer, downtown and other major sites is at least two decades old, Mercer President Bill Underwood said.
When the connector is finished, drivers can come off Interstate 75 and pass under a new “signature” pedestrian bridge at the university’s main entrance, then take Second Street into the heart of the city, he said.
“We have tens of thousands of guests and visitors who come to Mercer every year,” Underwood said. And those visitors are likely to judge the school and city on their first impression, he said.
Macon-Bibb is putting $2.2 million in bond funds into the pedestrian bridge, which will span Mercer University Drive near where it becomes Penniman. The bridge will serve a new development, for which ground was broken in March, that will house 313 students and feature a hotel, restaurants and parking deck. It should be finished in summer 2016.
Macon-Bibb got the athletic field and other small parcels, totaling 3.14 acres, along the planned street route in a land swap for the current senior citizens center on Adams Street.
The road work will require the closing of Penniman for three to four months, Reichert said. As it continues, other cross streets in its path will be rerouted around active construction. Access to some cross streets will close permanently, but residents of those neighborhoods will still be able to get onto or across Second Street via parallel streets, Macon-Bibb spokesman Chris Floore said.
Contractor Chris Sheridan said half of the subcontractors involved in the connector project are minority-owned firms, meeting another of Macon-Bibb’s stated hiring goals.
“Nine out of 10 of our trade contractors are local,” he said. The only exception is a traffic-signal company based in Atlanta. No local company does similar work, Sheridan said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.