October 22, 2021

Road project on hold

Late design work delays Main Street upgrades

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

A red Toyota, center, begins to pull forward after backing into traffic from a parking spot Monday on Main Street in Cortland. A $5 million plan to convert the street to two-way traffic and make other improvements, and featuring back-in parking where drivers would pull out going forward, has been delayed a year.

Cortland officials initially thought work would begin on Main Street this summer. But that’s not going to happen.

The timeline for the $5 million overhaul of Main Street — the centerpiece of the state-funded $10-million Downtown Revitalization Initiative — is now looking at a year delay, with construction beginning in the summer of 2021 and not this summer as previously planned.

Fisher Associates, the Syracuse-based engineering firm hired by the city for the initial design work, has completed a basic map of the existing infrastructure of Main Street, said Chris Bistocchi, the city’s superintendent of public works.

Bistocchi said last September that Fisher Associates would complete a final design by January or February — that is, right about now. He also said that construction on Main Street would begin in June.

But that design work has yet to be completed, he said.

The city has at least two subcommittees that provide advice on this project, said Mayor Brian Tobin.

One of those subcommittees, a steering committee of about 16 people — mainly city staff, consultants and Main Street business owners — met in January at the Elks Lodge at Main Street.

Another subcommittee — the arts committee — will meet at 2:30 p.m. March 4, at the city’s wastewater treatment plant at 251 Port Watson St., but that location may change, said committee Chairman Frank Kelly.

These two groups have been hashing out the details of the design, which will then be presented to the public at future Common Council meetings, but no presentations have yet been scheduled. Bistocchi said the infrastructure portion of that design — including the water mains and sanitary and storm sewers — should be completed by October. That plan will include a larger storm sewer system on Main Street.

“Right now the existing storm sewer just doesn’t have capacity to handle” major rain events, he said, pointing to flooding that occurred near some Main Street sewer drains during a July 16 storm. City workers measured 2 inches of rain in 36 minutes on the gauge at the city’s wastewater treatment plant during that storm.

Main Street design

The surface design for Main Street will require the most wrangling, because this includes controversial elements about parking and lane redesign, as well as the current proposal to change Main Street from a one-way to a two-way street.

Bistocchi said most of this design should be done by Christmas and the entire design plan will be finished by March or April of 2021 so work can begin that summer.

Because business owners have said they want a plan that accommodate delivery trucks, Bistocchi said he is pushing for a middle turn lane — or what’s known as a “TWLTL” or a two-way left turn lane — in which cars can make left turns and delivery trucks can temporarily park and unload.

Tobin said the delay in the project is necessary to make sure the project is done right.

“This stuff goes slowly. It has to go slowly,” Tobin said. “We’re moving methodically because it’s the right way to go.”

Clinton Avenue

Work on a separate project on Clinton Avenue, however, will continue as planned. Last summer, work crews replaced the water main along Clinton Avenue and cut down trees that were in the way.

This summer, crews will replace the rest of the underground infrastructure — including the sanitary and storm sewers — of Clinton Avenue to Main Street, said Nic Dovi, assistant superintendent of public works.

Surface renovations — including curbing, sidewalks, paving and lighting — will be tackled in the summer of 2021, he said.

These construction projects are part of a larger project that will revamp the east-west corridor of the city from Clinton to Groton Avenue, including bike paths that will run from Yaman Park to SUNY Cortland; the city has obtained about $21 million in state and federal funds for the project.

Bistocchi said the city is trying to avoid working on Main Street and Clinton Avenue simultaneously.

“It really doesn’t make sense to have both ripped up at the same time,” Bistocchi said.

“We’ve always been sensitive to the disruption of traffic into the downtown core,” said Mack Cook, the city’s director of administration and finance.