By Joseph Chapman
In June of 2020, the city of Youngstown broke ground on the first phase of the Smart2 Network Project, beginning the transformation of Youngstown’s roads. Since then, the project has made huge strides towards completion with the first phase expected to be completed in July of this year.
Last week, Phase II, which covers much of downtown Youngstown, was greenlit. According to the Youngstown Board of Control, the $15.8 million construction contract was given to Marucci and Gaffney Excavating Company.
Phase II of construction is expected to last until 2023. The remainder of 2021 will see continued work on Fifth Avenue as it connects to Park Avenue, which will pave the way for an autonomous shuttle to unite Youngstown State University and Mercy Health St. Elizabeth.
Other goals of Phase II include enhanced streetscaping and wider sidewalks on Phelps Street as a connector between the Amphitheater and the Federal Street restaurant strip. Danny O’Connell, director of Support Services at Youngstown State University, said Phelps Street will be a “grand entrance” into downtown.
“I think as we get beyond COVID … we’re going to see that area really take some nice shape,” O’Connell said. “You’re going to see things start to open on Phelps. And I think they want that feeling. Just like how nice it’s going to be with Fifth Avenue and Wick Avenue that are tied into downtown.”
Expanding further, O’Connell said the city will take advantage of the event zone on Federal Street, allowing patrons to walk between businesses carrying open containers of alcohol.
O’Connell also spoke about eliminating the step-up curbs from sidewalks to make them more easily accessible. The expansions of sidewalks should allow for more comfortable pedestrian travel to the new 3D printing area and the Youngstown Business Incubator.
“We get a lot of pedestrian traffic going downtown, and as you fix up those streets, and the sidewalks are better, it’s going to make it safer,” O’Connell said. “We’re going to notice this lighting, the sidewalks are going to be well lit … And I think that that’s the biggest benefit.”
O’Connell said the project is likely to cause issues with traffic, but he believes it will be worth it in the end. Fifth Avenue construction is still ongoing, and he encourages drivers to keep an eye out for changing traffic patterns.
“We’ve just got to remember to go places a little bit early. And take your time, safety first.”
After Phase II, road work will be completed and Phase III will begin. The groundbreaking inclusion of an autonomous shuttle service will connect Mercy Health St. Elizabeth with YSU, the Western Reserve Transit Authority Federal Transit Hub, downtown Youngstown and the CHILLCAN Beverage & Technology Complex.
According to the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments and the WTRA they are still setting the foundation for the project and procuring shuttles.
West Rayen Avenue is the last road planned to go under construction in 2023.