Portsmouth City Councl has 30 days presumably to decide the fate of a proposal to turn Front Street into a one-way street, making room for a walking/bike path alongside the flood wall murals which line the street and are easily the city’s biggest tourist attraction.
If the proposed change is green-lighted, the street would be one-way westbound starting at Washington Street. The pathway would run 1.3 miles from Shawnee State University — which would donate a right of way for the project — to Alexandria Park. According to a timetable released by the city, construction would begin in August 2019 and be completed by October of the same year. Community Development Director Tracy Shearer said at a public hearing this week that Front Street would be milled and repaved, and new striping would be needed.
Following the public hearing, Shearer did not return phone calls requeesting additional information, details and clarification, and it is unclear when the 30 days council has in which to act expire.
The city has earned a $622,000 state grant for the pathway contingent upon turning Front Street into a one-way street, Shearer said during the public session. The city has already spent approximately $60,000 on design work for the project. Shearer noted some of that money could possibly be recouped.
Judging from comments made during the public meeting at the Scioto County Welcome Center, the proposal is receiving mixed support.
During the public meeting, many comments seemed to center around the need for a walking/bike path. Conversely, several persons argued there is already a sidewalk running parallel to the flood wall murals, a sidewalk that essentially serves as a pedestrian pathway.
“We already have a pathway there,” one woman pointed out. “It’s called Front Street.”
The maxim “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was repeated by opponents several times.
But, one observer countered, “The telegraph wasn’t broken either.”
Earning a smattering of applause, visitor Jeremy Burnside stated that to an outsider, “the pathway looks like progress.”
Shearer said the city has been working on the pathway since 2015. Officials tried for a state grant in 2016, but were unsuccessful.
“A final design is required for the grant application, which included a one-way street conversion, and is why the one-way conversion is necessary for the project to move forward. Without the conversion, we essentially forfeit the grant,” Shearer wrote in an email.
The city has been working with an out-of-town firm, the Poggemeyer Design Group. Representatives told those at the hearing that removing one lane of Front Street seemed the best way to make room for the bike path.
“The conversion to one-way avoids costly work widening on the north side of Front Street to provide bike, vehicular and parking lanes and sidewalks that meet design standards,” Shearer explained in her email. “This would involve new right of way on the north side and retaining walls on the south side near Spruce Street.”
One respondent particularly concerned about the project is Ernie Vastine, owner of Valley Wholesale Foods, which operates a warehouse on Front Street.
“It would certainly create a problem for us,” Vastine said. He contends large semi-trucks would be unable to reach his docks under the proposed reworking of Front Street. Vastine also expressed concern with a variance purposed by Portsmouth Police, saying it could create a safety hazard for those using the proposed trail.
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931