MANCHESTER OFFICIALS have submitted an application for nearly $20 million in federal money to fund plans to transform the South Commercial Street area, including plans for a pedestrian bridge across Granite Street.
The plan, outlined in the city’s July 15 application for federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant funding for the Reconnecting Manchester for 21st Century Innovation Project, includes roadway, bridge, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure improvements at a total cost of $24.8 million, including $19.9 million in federal money and $4.9 million in local matching funds.
The plans call for a pedestrian bridge across Granite Street; extending South Commercial Street from the South Millyard to Elm Street corridor; establishing a multimodal transportation corridor along the nearby retired Pan Am railbed; and redesigning the Queen City Avenue/Cilley Road/South Willow Street intersection.
“I think this really has the opportunity to make an economic impact on the city to the magnitude of what the airport did back in the ’80s, then the arena and the Fisher Cats,” said Deputy Public Works Director Tim Clougherty. “I’m excited about this.”
“The hope and desire is that it spurs economic development where we wouldn’t have seen it otherwise,” said Mayor Joyce Craig.
City leaders say the improvements will create “the enhanced connectivity and congestion mitigation to enable $2.4 billion of private investment within the 124.3-acre project area,” including redevelopment and new construction development opportunities for approximately 12.1 million square feet of mixed-use development in the South Millyard area.
The project focuses on the South Millyard area, specifically the Granite Street corridor to the north; Queen City Avenue corridor to the south; Elm Street and South Willow Street corridors on the east; and the east bank of the Merrimack River.
Federal BUILD grants, formerly called TIGER grants, are awarded on a competitive basis to municipalities and states for significant transportation projects. The awards can be up to $25 million, with an 80/20 federal/local split, though they can potentially be 100% federally funded for communities like Manchester.
City aldermen voted in May to apply for a federal BUILD Transportation Discretionary Grant, to design a possible second egress on South Commercial Street in response to concerns over traffic generated by the new SNHU parking garage next to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
“What got us here initially was this need for another egress down by the ballfield,” said Craig.
“There is an obvious need in the area for another way out, and another way in. From the board’s perspective, they’ve pretty much committed to saying we need to do this, and the rough estimate of cost we got just for that was in the $4-5 million range. This federal grant opportunity came before us and we said let’s take advantage of this and apply. This can bring $25 million into the city in federal funds, and we can do so much more for basically the same amount of money we’d have to spend just to do that little piece. It’s an innovative, creative way to look at a problem and be able to do a lot more for the city and for the residents and businesses in that area.”
“It’s an underutilized area from an economic perspective, land use perspective, and opening up alternatives for transportation, making it more appealing,” said Clougherty. “If you walk down there today, we’re looking to improve things like more light, more people on bikes, more pedestrians, more alternatives for people that live and work in the Millyard. Not only ways to get in and out of there, but also to potentially provide a place to eat, have dinner, walk around, things like that.”
“Stay and enjoy,” said Craig.
According to the city application, part of the plans involve construction of a pedestrian bridge at Granite and South Commercial streets.
Currently, the pedestrian crossing of Granite Street crosses eight lanes of traffic. The project would construct a pedestrian bridge with its north entrance located at Gateway Park, crossing above Granite Street.
“That pedestrian bridge was the most popular thing to come out of the charrette,” said Clougherty. “You’ve got a lot of people, a lot of cars coming in and out — you can reduce the number of cars, but we can’t make it any wider so how do we get rid of the people? Somebody hits that button, for whatever the time period is — 55 seconds — no cars can move. You put in a ‘ped’ bridge, it eliminates that. It allows us to move traffic in and out a lot easier. We want to make it pedestrian friendly. We want people walking around down there. We’re hoping it’s going to spur development.”
“I know it’s been talked about over the years, and there’s a need,” said Craig. “There’s a lot of people, not just walking through there but driving through. It’s been talked about, and by applying for this grant the federal funds will allow us to do that and it will really make a difference in that area. It’s a nice introduction to the city, coming in, so we could really be creative with the design, a gateway.”
The project also includes extending South Commercial Street through to Elm Street, replacing an existing at-grade rail crossing at Bedford Street at the northwest corner of the project area.
At the heart of the project is the conversion of the retired railbed connecting the project area to Queen City Ave. as a multimodal transportation corridor. The corridor will accommodate two lanes for vehicles and a separate paved path for cyclists and pedestrians, achieved by replacing the Elm Street overpass and abutment walls.
The corridor will link two areas: a proposed multimodal transportation center, and a newly reconfigured intersection/gateway at Queen City Avenue/Cilley Road/South Willow Street including a new roundabout system and opportunities for development of multi-use buildings. This reconfiguration will result in an additional access point from the South Millyard area to local and regional roads, and the interstate highway system.
City officials hope to hear if the application has been approved by mid-November. If approved, construction could begin on some aspects of the plan by 2021, and completed by 2026.
Craig campaign hire
On Sunday Craig will announce the expansion of her campaign’s organizing team with the hiring of Kate McMurray as a field organizer. McMurray is a recent graduate of UMass Amherst, where she was a student leader with the campus’ College Democrats chapter.
“We’re investing early in organizing because connecting with residents one-on-one is the backbone of this campaign,” said Craig. “Through organizing in every area of the city, we’re empowering residents to talk with their neighbors about the issues they care about and how we can continue building a stronger Manchester. Kate is a great addition to our team and will play a vital role in growing our grassroots campaign.”
Public works retirements
The city’s public works department will lose over 135 years of institutional knowledge by the end of summer, when three key staffers retire.
Public Works Director Kevin Sheppard went before city aldermen earlier this month to recognize the three employees — Dave Lawrence, assistant chief of street operations, retiring after 46 years of service; Ned Desrosiers, superintendent of sewers, retiring after 43 years and 11 months of service; and Bob Neveu, solid waste superintendent, retiring after 46 years on the job.
The three men represent three different city high schools — Lawrence went to West, Ned went to Central, and Bob was at Memorial.
“I want to thank them, and I also want to thank their wives,” said Sheppard. “Through the long hours they’ve put in and gave to the city through the snowstorms, or through the sewer emergencies, or through all the extra work they’ve done for the city, giving a majority of their life in service to the city of Manchester.”
“As an alderman for almost 24 years, so often as an alderman we get calls concerning different types of trash collection or calls relating to the duties that they have performed,” said Ward 7 Alderman Bill Shea. “They’ve been just so wonderful. I don’t want them to think that the aldermen don’t appreciate that. They’re almost irreplaceable.”