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Stimson Ave. in Athens, Ohio, is undergoing construction, creating new driving patterns for community members. (FILE)

Stimson Avenue begins construction to accommodate disabled people, redevelop businesses

Stimson Avenue construction began March 1 due to its lack of accessibility for handicapped persons and hopes to bring in new business to Athens. 

The project plans to reconstruct the road from East State Street and Grant Street. Stimson Avenue, which is a main entrance into the heart of Athens, was last updated  in the 1970s. Since then, the road has become damaged and in need of attention by the city. After obtaining several grants and loans, Athens City Council brought this project to fruition. 

The project has collected $2 million from the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Ohio Small Cities Grant, $400,000 from the Ohio Public Works Commission Loan Fund and $5 million loan from the Ohio Department of Transportation through the State Infrastructure Bank. The $5 million loan will be paid off over 20 years through Street Rehabilitation Fund.

The Stimson Avenue construction project has been in Council discussions since last year. In March 2020, City Council began approving the cost and timeline for the construction project. In April 2020, Council continued discussion on funding for the project. In May 2020, Council approved an ordinance for a loan regarding the construction. 

Sam Crowl, D-3rd Ward, chair of finance and personnel committee and vice-chair of transportation committee, has been aware of the problems since he moved into Athens in 1996.

“As a regular user for the past 25 years the safety problems are obvious, particularly with the signaling for pedestrians crossing East State as cars turn from Carpenter to head eastward,” Crowl said in an email. “Along Stimson the telephone poles in the middle of the sidewalk are also obvious obstacles, especially for people in wheelchairs.”

Athens City Council President Chris Knisely also noticed these problems, especially when she had a conversation with a disabled Athens resident. 

“We had somebody … who worked at an agency on Stimson Avenue, and was disabled and said, ‘I'd like to meet with you, I'd like to show you the path I try and take in my wheelchair,’” Knisely said. “It was difficult — if not impossible, if not out in the streets — to get through at times.” 

Crowl said that the project plans to include a full-depth pavement replacement, pedestrian, bicycle and accessibility upgrades, lighting improvements, new traffic signals, landscaping and water, sewer and parking upgrades.

The benefits of completing this project also connect to the fact that Stimson Avenue is part of a qualified opportunity zone, or a QOZ. A QOZ is an economically distressed community where new investments may be eligible to receive preferential tax treatment, according to the IRS

“If an investor wanted to invest in purchasing an entire block of houses or buildings and potentially redeveloped those … it can be done under an opportunity zone,” Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said. “By having the street completely redone certainly makes it more attractive for a developer to want to come in and rethink what Stimpson Avenue could look like.”

Phase 1 of the construction project began March 1 and should be completed by mid-August 2021, Crowl said. Phase 2 is predicted to continue until November 2021 after it’s August start date. The final details are planned to be completed sometime between November 2021 and May 2022. The traffic should remain one-way through the entirety of construction, but is planned to be switched from the north-half of the road during Phase 1 to the south-half of the road during Phase 2. All businesses and residences will still be accessible throughout the duration of the project.

“To the best of my knowledge, the comments we've gotten are positive,” Knisely said. “Stimson itself has gotten a little less traffic, so that's probably the only downside I've heard about … long term businesses have been very understanding, knowing that it's going to mean for better traffic later on.”


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