By mid-June, Hillsborough Street will once again become a construction zone as crews overhaul another section of the artery north of N.C. State University, picking up where they left off in 2010.
Officials say it will take about 18 months and $18.7 million to slim the road to two lanes, bury power lines, replace sewer mains and add three traffic circles in the corridor running between Gardner and Shepherd streets.
“It’s going to be much more pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly, safe, and with the addition of these roundabouts, it’s going to allow the area to have smooth, steady traffic flow,” said Chris Johnson, design and construction manager for Raleigh’s Public Works Department.
Some say the $10 million first phase of the “revitalization project,” closer to downtown, attracted new development, and city officials said they have plans to get information to business owners more quickly. But Mitch’s Tavern owner, Mitch Hazouri, located in the previous construction area, said he worries about how businesses will fare during the second phase.
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“We were pretty well shut down on the street for the duration of this project,” Hazouri said of the project’s first phase.
Hazouri said his business fell more than 30 percent during construction.
White and orange barrels turned the street into a maze, as crews ripped up pavement and sidewalk, burying utility lines and rebuilding curbs.
In the wake of the first Hillsborough Street phase, the city hopes it can minimize disruptions by increasing the flow of project information to the public.
“We’re doing a lot more outreach to the community and the business owners throughout the construction project,” Johnson said.
The city, university and property owners in the area also combined funding to create the Hillsborough Street Community Service Corp. in fall 2009.
Director of Programs David Dean said the corporation will play a key role in the second phase.
A meeting this month about loading zones, despite emailed and hand-delivered notices to each merchant, had only two attendees. Project staff members have been pounding the pavement, hoping to improve attendance for a merchant preconstruction meeting on June 1.
“We’re going to try to create a communications plan that’s holistic and will not only engage the people in the area but the people in the surrounding community,” he said.
For those unable to attend meetings, a phone line, email address and a regularly updated construction website will be available for merchants starting June 1.
A groundbreaking celebration and the launch of a smartphone app – which will provide visitors with a business directory, street closing alerts and event schedules – is slated for June 9.
Raleigh contractor Pipeline Utilities will begin burying utilities and reshaping sidewalks and curbs on the university side of Hillsborough before switching to the other side in early 2017.
Median construction and the installation of traffic circles at Hillsborough’s intersections with Dixie Trail and Brooks Avenue are scheduled for spring of 2017. A third will be built where Shepherd and Rosemary streets meet Hillsborough unevenly.
The circle will eliminate a dangerous intersection, a building that housed the now-closed Sotos International Auto Care and half of the Reader’s Corner parking lot.
“They’re really hurting my parking. I don’t have enough parking as it is,” said Irv Coats, who has owned the bookstore with his wife, Christine Baukus, since 1979.
The city expects to spend about $1.5 million buying land for the project’s right of way, said Johnson, the design and construction manager.
Coats said he has recently seen an uptick in communications between the city and his business.
“I get more mail from them than I can handle,” he said.
Despite the loss of parking and long construction period, he thinks customers will keep coming and is keeping a positive outlook.
“The street will be prettier, and my property will be worth more,” he said. “And a dangerous intersection will be removed.”
Since the fall of 2009, roughly $325 million has been spent on commercial construction and remodeling projects along the 3-mile section of Hillsborough Street that begins near St. Mary’s School and extends to the Beltline, according to a 2015 report by the public-private Community Service Corp.
Cup a Joe owner David Sullivan has been leasing space on the corner of Hillsborough and Daisy streets for more than two decades. The building now sits across the street from Stanhope Center and Valentine Commons, two recently opened student housing developments that replaced a small row of bars and shops.
Sullivan said he worries about how the new construction is changing the character of an area he referred to as “funky town.”
He is also concerned that plans calling for a median that prevents drivers from turning left onto Daisy from Hillsborough will affect his business.
The narrower road could also reduce the number of cars seeing, and stopping, at Cup A Joe, Sullivan said.
“It sort of changes the viability of this corner,” he said.
The phase one area experienced a traffic reduction from 19,000 vehicles per day to 15,000 per day and saw vehicle crashes involving pedestrians drop significantly.
Sullivan thinks the hundreds of customers who visit Cup A Joe daily are loyal and will stick with him during and after construction, despite the challenges.
“We have 25 years of momentum here, so I’m not overly worried about it,” he said.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi