While the city took its first steps toward developing its latest long-range comprehensive plan, two councilmen vowed to use the opportunity to focus on long-needed improvements to a heavily traveled road running through both of their districts.
Both C.J. Small and Levon Manzie plan to use a portion of the $3 million in revenue from the extension of a 20-percent sales tax increase the council passed last year as an incentive to work on Ann Street. The increase was earmarked for infrastructure improvements to each Council district, giving each of the city’s seven districts $3 million a year for the next three fiscal years.
Manzie said he and Small plan to work together over that time to help fund the improvements, which will be done in phases.
“It’s one of the worst streets, as far as drivability,” Manzie said. “I expect Councilman Small and I to achieve an economy of scale to help fix it.”
It is a substantial project that could cost an estimated $13 million, City Engineer Nick Amberger said. The complete reconstruction project will eventually extend the entire length of the street from Arlington Street to Springhill Avenue, but has already begun on a two-block stretch near Craighead Elementary School, Amberger said.
The current project’s price tag of $2.4 million was covered by pay-as-you-go road funding from County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood and began after a sinkhole developed near the school, Amberger said.
Most of the underground work, including a new culvert, has been completed and crews are working their way up to street level. Repaving that small portion of Ann Street and replacing sidewalks will be completed this year.
Small said he was glad to see the work being done on what he called the “worst part of the street” in front of the school. The 36-year-old said the street has needed substantial repairs for a while.
“Ann Street is one of the oldest streets in the city,” he said. “It needed repairs when I was born.”
While Ludgood’s pay-as-you-go funds have helped initiate the first phase of repairs, Small said he hopes money from the districts can go further.
Because of its size, the Ann Street project has been broken down into three phases, Amberger said. Design work for the entire project has already been paid for and the street will be reconstructed as money is available, he said.
The project began on a portion of the street between Arlington and Tennessee streets. Volkert was awarded a $369,800 design and construction administration contract paid for by a Community Development Block Grant. James H. Adams & Son Construction was awarded the $2.4 million construction contract for the initial portion from Tennessee to Douglas. The remaining portion of the first phase will cost about another $2 to $3 million, Amberger said.
The second phase stretches from the Tennessee Street ditch to Government Street. McCrory and Williams was awarded a $163,000 design contract for the work. Amberger said the cost of construction administration would be added to their contract in the future.
The third phase stretches from Government Street to Springhill Avenue. Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood was awarded a $133,000 contract for the design work, Amberger said. In addition, Southern Earth Sciences was recently awarded a $37,500 contract for geotechnical engineering on the entire project.
While work on Ann Street is necessary, Small suggested the condition of Baltimore Street in his district is probably in as bad or worse shape. Amberger said, pending council approval, design work will begin on a similar project there. He said the council needs to approve a $200,000 CDBG grant for design work to begin and estimated the total project cost between $2 million and $3 million.
Meanwhile, Charles Hyland, executive director of the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System, said officials with the utility work with the city before repaving projects begin to see what can be done on their end to help.
“We try to get out in front of them and do [work] on segments of streets that the city’s going to resurface,” Hyland said. “When they do that we get a list and try to stay ahead of them. On some streets where it’s a very extensive project it may involve assessing and seeing what the entire infrastructure, as far as the utility needs to be replaced.”
Hyland said MAWSS has had meetings with city engineering staff about ongoing projects, but Amberger said the $2.4 million contract the city entered into for work on the initial two-block portion of Ann Street also paid for utility work.
At the initial city meeting to discuss a new long-range plan on March 30, organizers asked residents for their opinions on what will make Mobile better. The need for infrastructure improvements was addressed by Larry Watts with Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood.
“There are issues with paving, sewer lines and stormwater management,” Watts said. “We know some of that comes from Mobile being one of the oldest cities in America.”
The meeting marked the first in a series called “Map for Mobile: Framework for Growth,” which would begin a process that hadn’t taken place in about two decades.
“It’s the first time in nearly 20 years we’ve had a comprehensive plan for the city,” Mayor Sandy Stimpson said during his opening remarks.
Stimpson said the framework would build upon previous plans and would take past ideas into consideration.
Jamie Greene, of Planning NEXT gave the crowd some examples of cities where this type of planning had taken root. He said Charleston, South Carolina put together a long-range plan that took the area’s natural resources, which are similar to Mobile’s, into account.
Another example was Norfolk, Virginia, Greene said, where planners did “terrific work” in the downtown area and in the various neighborhoods in the city. Greene also mentioned Nashville, which he said was “nationally recognized as an up-and-coming” city.
While he gave those cities as examples, Greene said highlighting Mobile’s individuality would be key in the planning process.
“Mobile should be Mobile,” he said. “What visitors and youth are looking for is uniqueness.”