Motorists using downtown square should expect detours

"Road closed to thru traffic sign" went up on Austin Street Tuesday

Motorists whose commute includes using the streets around the downtown Center should be prepared for detours starting today.

As part of the city of Center's downtown streetscape project, construction will be starting on the first quadrant of the project. That area includes the intersection of San Augustine and Austin streets and runs about a half block down each street from the intersection.

Motorists were greeted with the first of those “Road Closed to Thru Traffic” signs on Tuesday morning at the intersection of Nacogdoches and Austin streets. The half block includes Citizens Bank, Factory Connection, the Shelby County Clerk's office and All Hours Gym.

Also included in the first phase of the demolition and renovation project is the half block of San Augustine Street which includes The Light and Champion and Veneta's Studio.

City Manager Chad Nehring said access to storefronts should remain available for pedestrian traffic

“All storefronts should remain accessible via current sidewalks barring some unplanned problem with customer parking at least from the mid-block, as only half of each side of the square will be barricaded from the current intersection under construction at any one time,” he said Monday.

The city also provided drawings showing potential detour routes for the initial phase of the project.

For traffic normally using Austin and San Augustine streets around the square coming from or heading to the intersection of Hwy 7 and U.S. 96 recommends using Houston Street coming from the 96 and 7 intersections.

Tony Anderson, construction superintendent for the project general contractor, Fort Worth-based The Fain Group, on Tuesday said he expects San Augustine Street in the area for the first phase of construction to be closed as soon as today.

He said construction crews were awaiting signage needed to divert traffic around the San Augustine Street portion of the project.

“As soon as those arrive, it'll be closed too,” he said.

The work on each of the four quadrants will take approximately three months, starting with the southeast quadrant and working around the square clockwise from there, Anderson said. Next will be the northeast quadrant around the first of 2020; then the northwest quadrant and the southwest quadrant next summer.

“This is a full calendar year project. Some streets will be open in those areas and others will be closed as work progresses,” he said. The work plan basically includes demolition from the sidewalks at storefronts in the designated quadrant working across the street to the sidewalk around the historic courthouse square.

The work does not include anything from the retaining wall inside the lawn or the 1885 Shelby County Courthouse, which still has hitching rings from horse and buggy days.

Anderson said he only found out Tuesday morning about the Center Alumni Association's Annual Homecoming Parade scheduled this Saturday, The parade normally includes a route around the streets surrounding the historic courthouse.

“No one told me about that until I was talking to a gentleman this morning who mentioned it,” Anderson said. “I had no knowledge that was scheduled.”

He said the normal route will not be suitable for the parade Saturday.

Due to requirements of the contractor's insurance company, the construction zone area which is fenced off, or will be fenced off, do not allow the fencing to be taken down while work on each specific quadrant is in progress.

“It will allow access along sidewalks to businesses, but people need to know the whole square is going to be impacted over the next year,” Anderson said.

The project was originally scheduled to begin in July, immediately after the What-A-Melon Festival. Due to traffic studies done by the city and Texas Department of Transportation, delays moved the start date back well into August and then September.

When it looked like construction was butting up against the East Texas Poultry Festival, Nehring said the city and The Fain Group mutually agreed to not start until immediately after the festival, which concluded Oct. 5.

Earlier the city released a prepared statement outlining details of the project.

"Construction will be divided into four distinct segments comprised of one intersection and half blocks in each direction,” the statement said. “The initial construction zone will include the intersection of San Augustine and Austin and extend one-half block up each street.

“Upon substantial completion of that quadrant, construction will proceed clockwise around the square concluding with the Shelbyville Street corner. After completion of the major roadwork and sidewalks, the landscaping and lighting with be finished,” the city said.

Construction should last approximately three months for each quadrant and be completed near September, 2020.

“Detour signage will be placed to assist drivers to avoid the intersection under construction,” the statement said. “Existing sidewalk access to all businesses will be available throughout the entirety of the project but adjacent parking will be impacted."

The construction area will include all public infrastructure from the historic courthouse retaining wall to business storefronts. 

Major components of construction include resurfacing of all roadways and parking with adjusted grades to improve surface drainage, reinstalling previous mid-block crosswalks including handicap access and parking stalls, removing the varying grade changes between parking and storefronts, adapting all four intersections to provide safer pedestrian crossings, and transitioning to three way stops, the city said.