The half-mile stretch of roadway that’s part of an $8 million project connecting the Mercer University area with downtown Macon will reopen Thursday.
Macon-Bibb County leaders, agencies and contractors will be among those on hand for a 9 a.m. ceremony marking the completion of the first phase of the project linking Little Richard Penniman Boulevard to Second Street. The project is part of the Second Street corridor revitalization that will connect Mercer University, downtown Macon and other areas.
The project’s first phase rerouted Penniman between Nussbaum Avenue and Telfair Street. It features new pedestrian lights, 10-foot-wide sidewalks and more green space, including a doubling of the size of the small Smith Park.
Since April, 30 to 50 workers were on site daily. The number had significantly dwindled by Wednesday as crews added the final touches.
“Everything clicked right on schedule,” said Thomas Rogers, director of operations for lead contractor Chris R. Sheridan & Co. “We’ve completed it in time and finished on the date promised.”
The second phase will resume work past Telfair Street on a quarter-mile stretch that runs into the Second Street “hump bridge” that will be replaced. The new bridge and the reworking of roads from the bridge to Hazel Street will be the final phase.
“One of the goals is to provide for commercial development along Penniman Boulevard where there is none,” said Macon-Bibb County spokesman Chris Floore.
The project remains on target to be finished by about September 2016. It’s part of the revitalization of the I-75 Mercer University Drive exit that will look “phenomenally different” once completed, said Clay Murphey, who manages Macon-Bibb projects paid for with special purpose local option sales tax.
Construction is underway on a hotel, new student lofts and a parking garage off Mercer University Drive. Also, the Macon Housing Authority has applied for a grant to tear down the nearby Tindall Heights public housing development to make way for 270 affordable residential units.
“This becomes our 1-75 entrance into downtown,” Murphey said. “The work Mercer’s done, what we’re doing, what (the Macon Housing Authority) is doing, changes your visible perspective of the street.”
A drastic change in transportation costs also has taken place along the Second Street corridor after plans that would have included trolleys was changed to include electric buses instead. Infrastructure for the trolley -- from the Macon Coliseum to Mercer University -- would have cost $100 million for the 2-mile stretch. Instead, the county is seeking a grant to purchase five electric buses and a charging station for $8 million. The vehicles would be equipped with Wi-Fi and would provide “educational” tours extending to areas such as Middle Georgia State University.
“We moved away from the trolley idea, because we can expand that transit system quicker for less money,” Floore said.
The connector project also involved a land swap, with Mercer University providing Macon-Bibb about 3 acres in exchange for the site of the current Senior Citizens Center on Adams Street and about $26,000 in cash. County officials have said the swap means the county won’t have to buy more right of way for the connector road.
While the first phase of the connector project ends, engineering work has begun on the signature pedestrian bridge that will be built off Mercer University Drive near the university’s football stadium. A $2.8 million Tax Allocation District bond will pay for the bridge that’s projected to be finished by fall 2016, Murphey said.
Mayor Robert Reichert’s idea for a strong urban core around Mercer University and downtown is showcased in the “vision block” that reopened in December, Floore said.
That block -- a “walkable, urban core” that extends from Poplar to Cherry streets -- has new bicycle lanes, lights, improved sidewalks, trees and reverse angle parking. It was funded with $1.2 million in SPLOST money.
To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623.