WEST JEFFERSON-That long delayed expansion of downtown West Jefferson’s streetscape renovation? It should be completed this time next year.
That’s according to West Jefferson Town Manager Brantley Price, who said this week pedestrian friendly changes along the northern end of South Jefferson Avenue at its intersection of East Second Street will likely be completed by October 2016.
Price said the town originally intended to complete the project – an extension of the town’s much lauded Streetscape Project – this fall but ran into delays after all the firms that bid on the project’s construction came back with over budget cost estimates.
The project extension will replace the current signal light at the intersection of South Jefferson Avenue and East Second Street with four-way stop signs. Sidewalks would also be added in front of the lower buildings located on East Second Street which are difficult for pedestrians to reach.
“It is going to let people cross the road,” Price, “You cannot safely cross that street. People will walk down that way and then turn back.”
The West Jefferson Streetscape project first kicked off in 2011 with the removal of two signal lights which were replaced with four-way stop signs.
According to North Carolina Department of Transportation Completestreets, the improvements not only enhanced pedestrian safety, but resulted in $13,800 in yearly division savings in maintenance costs alone.
The project, primarily funded by the NCDOT and Appalachian Health Department, continued with the addition of diagonal parking, curb extensions, street crossings and street furniture.
Recent statistics reported that the project helped reduce accidents by 24 percent, one reason the town wants to extend the project.
According to Price, the town plans to rebid the project out this December after bids received in September were nearly twice the project’s budget of $250,000.
Price said adjustments will have to be made to the original plans in order to meet the budget.
“I’m not sure what the final designs are going to be now because we are having to downsize it,” Price said.
Pedestrian safety should improve
With the number of tourists coming to downtown West Jefferson increasing each year, pedestrian safety continues to be a concern for West Jefferson town leaders and business owners.
According to Syndi Brooks, co-owner of Quilt Square Girls located on East Second Street, getting to her business right now is not only difficult, but dangerous.
“It’s very dangerous because of the cars,” Brooks said. “I’m always concerned about customers, especially older customers, crossing the street here.”
Brooks also recalled last Halloween when she felt the traffic at the intersection was too tricky for children to cross.
“Last year we ended up standing outside and handing out candy into the cars because we were afraid the children would try to cross,” Brooks said.
Brooks believes the addition of four-way stop signs and sidewalks will make pedestrians feel more more comfortable walking to East Second Street.
“I’m really excited, it’ll give us more walk through traffic,” Brooks said. “I also think it will continue the revitalization of downtown in this direction. I think West Jefferson is getting better and better.”
West Jefferson recognized
West Jefferson was recognized in the national publication, Roads and Bridges, which detailed the design and success of the West Jefferson Streetcape project in its August edition. The trade magazine, which reaches over 62,000 subscribers monthly through its print edition and over 55,000 people through online subscribers, detailed how the project came to exist and the successes of the plan.
The article described West Jefferson’s plans to resurface South Jefferson Avenue and add a drainage improvement project, but instead saw a way to change the downtown landscape with some help from the NCDOT and Smart Growth America’s National Complete Street Coalition.
Most recently, West Jefferson received national recognition in the October edition of GOVERNING magazine. The magazine, which began publication in 1987 and has approximately 85,000 in its circulation, covers politics, policy and management for state and local government leaders.
GOVERNING described West Jefferson’s street makeover as a transformation that has reinvigorated the area.
The magazine also stated the number of vacant downtown storefronts dropped from 33 to three with tourism showing a dramatic increase.
“It’s good to get national recognition and especially when they compare you to some of the other cities they have in those articles,” Price said. “It makes you feel good.”
West Jefferson was also recognized by the North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA-NC) with their “The Great Main Street 2015 Award.”
The program is designed to celebrate great places in North Carolina and recognize the hard work and partnerships that created them.
Price said the award was due solely to the West Jefferson Streetscape project.
“It’s the only reason,” Price said.
Construction for the project extension is expected to begin in February or March of 2016.
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.