Town officials hope commuters who typically use South Academy Street will avoid the downtown Cary thoroughfare over the next year as it undergoes construction and the two-lane road is reduced to one lane.
The town anticipates starting work Monday, June 1, to renovate South Academy Street from Chatham Street in the north to the intersection of Walnut Street and Kildaire Farm Road just south of Academy. The town broke ground Thursday during a “Celebrate the Street” party.
The construction is part of a year-long $6 million project to transform what Cary officials consider to be the town’s most iconic street. Cary plans to widen the sidewalks and install new benches, trees and public art along South Academy. The project is funded from a bond sale that voters approved in 2012.
The two-lane road will be reduced to one lane for most of the year-long construction period. The town plans to shut down the northbound lane for the first few months before opening it and closing the southbound lane for the last few months of construction, said Kyle Hubert, a project manager for Cary.
The town has posted a set of suggested detours around Academy on its website.
“Our downtown businesses will stay open, so please come visit them,” Hubert said. “But if you’re headed toward another destination, you’re probably better off using another route.”
East of Academy, the town is encouraging commuters to travel between Chatham and Kildaire Farm Road using Byrum and Walker streets.
To the west of Academy, the town wants commuters to use Harrison Avenue.
In addition to shutting down part of Academy Street, Cary plans to close the westbound lane on Dry Avenue and close the intersection of Kildaire Farm Road and Walnut Street. The intersection is home to water and sewer lines that construction crews will need to dig up and work on, Hubert said.
“We’re gonna start off with some pretty intensive utility work,” he said.
While the town plans to maintain vehicle access points to Academy Street businesses throughout the construction process, but some business owners still worry that the new traffic patterns will discourage potential customers from driving to downtown Cary.
The Cary Gallery of Artists, located deep in the shopping center near the intersection of South Academy and Chatham streets, is completely reliant on walk-in customers, said Susan Luster, an artist who helps run the co-op.
“Of course we’re concerned,” she said.
Luster said the gallery plans to use Facebook and email to remind customers of the gallery’s operating hours, which will not change, and of the traffic pattern on Academy.
The shopping center is off the southbound lane of Academy Street. Art walks and other downtown events, which are held mostly in the summer months, generate a lot of business for the gallery, Luster said.
She said she’s grateful that the southbound lane of Academy Street will remain open during the warmer months.
“Hopefully, by the holidays, people will all be used to the new traffic routine,” Luster said.
Brian Fitzgerald, owner and head chef of Academy Street Bistro, thinks the roadwork could potentially hurt his business, even if the regular crowds continue to visit.
With its 38 seats on the southbound Academy sidewalk, Academy Street Bistro is a popular outdoor dining spot when the weather is nice. But dust and loud noises could potentially ruin that experience, Fitzgerald said.
“That’s crucial to our business,” he said of outdoor seating. “I don’t know what to expect.”
Most bistro customers want to sit outside, Fitzgerald said. He looks forward to being able to accommodate more of those customers when construction on Academy is finished.
The town plans to widen the sidewalk, allowing the bistro to expand its outdoor dining space.
“The outcome is going to be great,” Fitzgerald said. “I can’t wait.”
Go to www.townofcary.org and search “Academy Street Improvements” for a detour map and to keep up with construction.