By Joseph Chapman
In June, the city of Youngstown broke ground on the first phase of the Smart2 Network Project beginning the transformation of Youngstown’s roads. According to the city of Youngstown’s website, Smart2 will provide pedestrian and bicycle facilities, autonomous transit shuttles, transit waiting environments, green infrastructure and streetscaping.
Their goal includes connecting the city with five points of interest in mind: Youngstown State University, Mercy Health St. Elizabeth, Youngstown Business Incubator, Eastern Gateway Community College and WRTA Federal Station.
Danny O’Connell, director of Support Services at Youngstown State University, explained the city received $10.85 million in funding from the United States Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments Leverage Development, or BUILD.
“Fifth Avenue currently is too wide for the need, and the projected need long into the future when it was put in. Things were a lot different downtown. There was a lot heavier traffic coming in, and really, in my opinion, it’s gotten to the point where it’s not as safe as it should be,” O’Connell said.
The project will reduce the number of lanes on Fifth Avenue in an effort to make it proportionate to the flow of traffic. It will make the environment safer for pedestrians, O’Connell said.
Fifth Avenue is also set to receive two autonomous shuttles, which will be the first of their kind in the Valley.
The first concern of the contractors and the university is student safety. While the Fifth Avenue drain work continues, COVID-19 has actually had a positive effect in terms of this project.
“It’s kind of different right now also because of COVID. … What are the silver linings? Our traffic on campus is less than it would normally be this fall,” O’Connell said. “And so that probably makes things safer for this project and also safer for the students.”
The contracting company, Parella-Pannunzio Inc., is taking advantage of the great conditions.
“So much of what they do out there is based on weather. And so they’ve had [great] weather, they’ve had light traffic. And so they’re taking advantage of it. I mean, I’ve seen the owner out there setting up combs digging with a shovel … it’s impressive to me when you see you know the owner on a project every day,” O’Connell said.
To maintain safety, O’Connell recommends students park in specific locations. He said the parking deck on Wick Avenue and the newly constructed parking lot behind the east side stand as ideal parking for students.
Although the construction will take a while, the results will be worth it, O’Connell said.
“If you look at the issues with crossing streets and dealing with traffic on streets, we’re going to be much closer, it’s going to be a shorter cross, which in turn makes it a safer cross and that’s going to be huge for us moving forward,” he said.
“We’re going to have a year and a half of some headaches,” he said. “But then we’re going to have a lifetime of a better transportation system and safer pedestrian walkways.”