I had only been at The Daily Herald for about a month or two when talks first began to redesign and upgrade a portion of West 7th Street.
Although I was still considered the “new guy in town,” getting my feet wet in understanding local politics, who the big stakeholders were in town and the overall direction Columbia was heading in the next few years.
One lesson I learned was just how important the stretch of road in front of the post office was, and that it was time to make it look the part. More importantly, I learned about how long a road project like this takes. It takes multiple years of planning, hiring a construction company, securing funding, creating a design, approving the design, making changes and updating the design, you get the idea.
Road projects don’t happen overnight (just ask anyone in Spring Hill), and they can be painfully grueling sometimes when it comes to navigating a bunch of cars around it. However long it might take, it doesn’t last forever, and the end result is something the community will appreciate for years to come, while at the same time making the road safer, bike/pedestrian friendly and more aesthetically pleasing. This is something we need to remind ourselves of with the West 7th Street project, because they are saying it will take 450 days, as of now, to complete.
Although it will be a couple of years before the last shovel of dirt is moved and the lines on the road are painted, there is one advantage we have going into it. The company hired to do the work, Sessions Paving, is based in Columbia, with project director Wayne DeMoss residing just off West 6th Street. They have to drive the roads too, therefore want to make the inconvenience as painless as possible.
The $6.2 million project, which will go from High Street to Beckett Street, will see the road’s four lanes narrowed to three, with the middle lane serving as a turning lane. You might be quick to think, “How is taking away one of the lanes going to make it any safer?” If you’ve driven on the road only to find yourself slamming on the breaks because the car in front of you suddenly has to turn into the Post Office parking lot, that’s why.
If you’re one of the unfortunate ones unable to stop in time, causing a collision, possible injuries and stopping traffic all together, that’s why. Although West 7th Street is one of the city’s most trafficked roads, which leads into another at Trotwood Avenue, it’s not like we’re narrowing I-65 here, and it’s not going to become a giant traffic clog just because each side now only has one lane. The idea is to create a better stream of traffic flow, while dedicating one of the lanes specifically for those drivers turning into side streets and businesses.
It’ll take some getting used to, sure, but in the end we’re all going to have a much better road at our disposal. And it’s not just the road, but the sidewalks are going to be improved, with more shade trees, benches and dedicated pedestrian/bike lanes. All of the power lines you see strung up above the road on giant telephone poles, they’re going underground.
The project won’t be without its share of casualties, which I think will be the hardest part for some people to accept. The first to go will be the trees located in front of the Memorial Building, which are located within the street’s right of way. However, in return we’ll be getting lots of new foliage added to the road, which will more than make up for it, not to mention also improving the existing rugged and cracked sidewalk.
There will also be a year, or possibly two, where the Mule Day Parade and the Columbia Christmas Parade will have to take alternate routes. That’s one concern I think people can find it in themselves to live with. The parades will be affected, sure, and it’ll take some extra work from everyone involved to figure out another plan, but it won’t entirely cancel the festivities.
This is a project the community needs to be excited about, despite how much fun having to drive through construction can be. For me personally, I’m just happy to see it finally get off the ground. Part of it feels like its coming full circle, as I mentioned before this was one of the first big stories I ever covered for The Herald.
It’s crazy to think that was almost five years ago, and to look back on how things have changed since, how I’ve changed and grown in my life and my profession. It’s a humbling reminder that through hard work, dedication and not giving up despite having to jump through multiple hurdles, having a little patience can lead you somewhere better than you could have ever imagined.
That’s my take on it, and why waking up early Friday morning to attend the project’s groundbreaking was something I did not want to miss, because not only was it years in the making, but it was the first step into creating a brighter, more pleasing gateway into our downtown that we’ve needed for years.
Jay Powell is a reporter for The Daily Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JayPowellCDH.