By KATHLEEN SHAW
Daily News-Record 1/23/20
Out with the old and in with the new — East Market Street’s infrastructure project is finished, and the road is open to traffic once again.
Originally planned as a quick summer construction project, digging into the downtown street revealed a century-old can of worms that extended the construction from May to January.
City officials elebrated the reopening of the road, between Mason Street and Court Square, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday.
Tom Hartman, Harrisonburg’s director of public works, said what began as a job to reconstruct the water lines, built in the 1890s, uncovered a nearly nonexistent road sub-base. After removing the top foot of road and establishing sturdier pavement, the sanitary sewer line appeared in need of an update. Then, the team discovered the gas line was too shallow and the duct bank needed to be relocated.
“It made sense to do all of this at the same time in one construction season and then get it out of the way for the foreseeable future. We hope that at least through the rest of my career we won’t need to be in there to make maintenance, but there’s always new development,” Hartman said.
For Harrisonburg resident Ivan Christo, the seemingly never-ending project was confusing, but it was worth the disruption to bring everything to safety standards.
Christo said the construction was a minor inconvenience, mostly limiting his parking and access to a bank, but the closed roadway exposed him to other downtown businesses. The reopened area’s improved appearance and functionality rectify the delay, he added.
“I was a little upset and curious about why it was closed for so long, but someone explained to me it kept being held up by the infrastructure, and I thought it was a good idea they fixed that all up,” Christo said. “I think it was a good venture in the long run, and it’ll do a lot more for the community now that the paths are wider and much smoother.”
Gitchell’s Photography has been open on East Market Street since 1909, so owner Christa Gitchell said her client base is well-secured and business was not heavily impacted by the prolonged closing. She said she is pleased with the updated signage, road and walkways.
“I’ve been screaming for them to do this for 30 years,” Gitchell said. “Now it looks like it should. This is the gateway to downtown, so it should look beautiful.”
Andrea Dono, executive director of Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, was at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday and said opening up the “gateway” to downtown will hopefully bring back the bustle of customers at East Market Street businesses.
“It was inconvenient. There was always parking on that street and having that throughway open to traffic and also enticing to pedestrians helped promote their businesses because their storefronts are essentially their best billboards,” Dono said. “It did create some hardship, but it looks like they’ve been able to endure, and we look forward to seeing them prosper.”
Dono said new sidewalks and water lines are not the only change East Market Street will see this year. Two new businesses are already in the early stages of development at the corner of Federal and Market streets at the site of Williams & Associates Real Estate: a cafe lounge and an instrument repair shop.
Next on the city’s agenda is to create a shared-use path for bike and pedestrian mobility on Federal Street between Market and Elizabeth streets. Then, construction to replace the water lines at the intersection of Mason and Market streets will begin. Hartman said both projects are expected to wrap up in the summer.
“We’re going to continue to see more work like this through the city,” he said. “We need to update it and maintain it by replacing it because of the age.”