The Richland Avenue Pedestrian Passageway project is expected to begin construction in March 2020 after numerous delays.
Previously, the project was delayed due to lost bids and constrained construction times, according to a previous Post report. Bids were lost because of the short time frame given by the university for the project.
“We had to go back to the drawing board and gauge with Ohio University to see if we could expand that timeline,” Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said. “And Ohio University felt for a project of this magnitude to release the project, they were comfortable with March 1 being the start date.”
The original time frame of beginning construction after graduation and completing it by move-in day proved to be a concern for construction companies, Patterson said. An alternate time frame of March 1 through September 11 was proposed, and the project was put up for bid once more, this time receiving an offer.
The Ohio Department of Transportation also approved the project, Patterson said.
“The university came forward with a little bit more money, and we did, too,” said Councilman Peter Kotses, D-At Large. “We kind of met everybody half way.”
Due to the large nature of the project and its impact on campus safety, OU was willing to extend the project start date and deadlines. The project was then put up with its new time frame and received a bid within both the city and OU’s budget.
The Richland Avenue Pedestrian Passageway will connect West Green and Baker Center, according to a previous Post article. The cost is estimated at $3.6 million with contributions from both the city of Athens and the university. The passageway is being constructed for the safety of pedestrians crossing the intersection and to reduce the large traffic back-ups that happen during rush hours.
Although there is a consensus among City Council members about the importance of pedestrian safety, not everybody approves of the budget for the project. Pat McGee, I-At Large, has previously voiced concerns about spending and the lack of research into the street’s safety and is still opposed to the project.
The university is asking a city with a $1.5 million debt to build something to improve the university, but it isn’t paying its fair share, McGee said.
McGee has previously offered up the alternative of having a crossing guard during the crosswalk’s busiest hours. He estimates having a crossing guard for five days out of the week for eight months. The guard would need to be there for six hours out of the day. McGee cites a crossing guard would be cheaper than the $3 million to be spent on the project. He has also voiced concern over how many people actually use the crosswalk.
Richland Avenue serves as a connection from the south side to the rest of town, Kotses said. He also mentioned that it is one of the easiest ways to get uptown without going all the way through campus.
“Right now, it’s getting challenged every hour on the hour by pedestrians that are doing what they’re allowed to do,” Kotses said. “I think this is a win-win for everyone.”
Many students deal with the frustrations of congestion, among other issues, with the crosswalk daily.
“I just feel like it’s kind of hard for cars to get through,” said Taylor Miller, a freshman studying computer science. “Especially, like, in between classes. There’s a 20-minute period where it’s basically backed up all the way to the bridge.”
For others, the use of their tuition is an even greater concern.
“I don’t know. I think it works the way it is. Most people stop,” Jade Dutiel, an undecided freshman, said. “I don’t think it’s necessary.”
Dutiel believes the money for the project could instead go to providing two-ply toilet paper in campus bathrooms.
Miller also expressed that the cost is large, but he pays $25,000 a year to attend the university, so the money isn’t that large of an amount for OU to pay.
Over the course of three years, other options were proposed, Patterson said. There were issues finding solutions that were both affordable and practical. Another option that was frequently brought up, but ultimately decided against, was an underground tunnel.
The experience of going into a dark tunnel, then exiting again into daylight, would not be the greatest experience, Kotses said. The design would not capture the maximum number of people using the tunnel.