Torn-up sidewalks and closed traffic lanes confront downtown pedestrians and motorists as Lexington attempts to remake its appearance before the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games this fall.
Downtown's two major east-west streets — Main and Vine — are obstacle courses of destruction and construction, but the city expects the work to be finished by Aug. 20, more than a month before the Games begin.
The city's ambitious $31 million Downtown Streetscape Plan, paid for with local, state and federal funds, includes Main, Vine, South Limestone and Cheapside Park.
An ultimate goal of the project — proposed by Mayor Jim Newberry in 2007 and approved by the Urban County Council in 2008 — is to make downtown more pedestrian- and business-friendly.
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Also, rain gardens and upgrades to aging storm and sanitary sewers will help bring the city into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.
Kelli Bishop, a server at Bellini's at 115 West Main Street, anticipates the project's completion. The sidewalk work was "pretty disruptive for a few weeks," she said Tuesday morning as she prepared to open the restaurant for lunch.
But "it will help our business a lot when everything's finished," she said.
Around the corner, Gary Maslyn took a few minutes to sit outside his restaurant, Sam's Hot Dog Stand at 105 North Limestone, before the noon rush began. Sidewalk construction has slowed business, he said. "People can't walk on the sidewalks."
In the next breath, Maslyn added, "But it's going to be worth it. Like anything else, it just takes time."
The city is replacing sidewalks on six blocks of Main Street and three blocks of Vine Street.
Sidewalks will be wider and Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible. There will be new curbs, some new sewers, rain gardens, tree wells and bike lanes.
Work on Main and Vine, started in late March, comes as reconstruction of South Limestone nears completion.
Businesses along that major northbound artery have suffered since the overhaul required closing South Limestone in July 2009 for underground work, including burying utilities and improving sewers between Avenue of Champions and Vine.
Utility lines were already underground on most of Main and Vine, said George Milligan, the city's streetscape project coordinator, so the work there is not as extensive and does not require complete closing of the streets.
Milligan meets with Main and Vine business owners "on a one-to-one basis" to hear their concerns and keep them updated on the timetable.
Rob Coulson, an employee at Failte, an Irish import shop on South Upper Street, expressed surprise that Main and Vine sidewalk work was going "so quickly, considering it took so long on Limestone." Failte was located on South Limestone and moved to its new location before St. Patrick's Day.
For his part, Coulson is glad the city bit the bullet and is redoing sidewalks. Infrastructure work "is vitally important," Coulson said. "It's been ignored for too long."
Megan Craig, director of Gallery B, said she was originally told by the city that replacing sidewalks in front on her art gallery at 145 West Main Street would take two weeks. "It took about twice that long," Craig said.
However, the economic impact on her business was relatively minor, she said. "It didn't really slow us down that much. It was an eyesore more than anything else."
On Tuesday, sidewalk work was finished and a rain garden in front of Gallery B was ready for planting. "It's definitely worth the wait," Craig said. "It's going to be beautiful."
When the streetscape plan was unveiled on Feb. 26, 2009, the work was supposed to be completed by July 2010. That date has been moved to near the end of August.
Around the old courthouse, sidewalks are two-thirds complete with brick pavers to be laid and soil added to four rain gardens. Some landscaping remains to be done.
"We will come out with our punch list and list all the little minor things to be finished. We'll be compiling that in the next two weeks," Milligan said.
Fourth of July activities will be moved to the courthouse plaza because of construction on Vine Street. All downtown sidewalk work will be halted on July 1 and sites cleaned up in preparation for the festivities, Milligan said. Work will resume on July 5.
Horse Mania horses are scheduled to be on display at the end of June. An exact date has not been set, said Jim Clark, president of the Lexington arts council.
But the Horse Mania horses will be in place for Fourth of July.
When work started on Main and Vine streets, Milligan said that at no time would more than one lane of traffic be closed, and that would not be between morning and evening rush hours: 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. or 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
However, Tuesday morning, three lanes of traffic were closed in the Lexington Public Library block. Milligan said Kentucky American Water closed two lanes in front of the library because of a water main break. "That's why those two lanes were shut down. It was not related to streetscape."
Four separate contractors are doing the Main and Vine street work: Morilla Design and Construction, Charles Deweese Construction, Woodall Construction and ATS Construction.
Asked if crews had encountered anything unexpected, Milligan said, "We've run into basements that come out under the sidewalk to the edge of the curb." Among those are 123 West Main and 146 West Main.
"We are talking with property owners now," he said. Owners will have to build a dummy wall at the building line, the sidewalk removed and "that portion of the basement under the old sidewalk filled in."
Despite the inconvenience to pedestrians and business, Coulson, at Failte, said, "It will be all worth it."
"This is the cool part of town," he said.