In anticipation of a wave of construction projects in downtown Ithaca set to begin at the end of the month, city officials and engineers are initiating a public relations campaign aimed at allaying the impact of increased traffic congestion.
Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 has dubbed what is expected to be a gridlocked summer “Carmaggedon,” likening the experience of sweating out the July heat in traffic to the apocalypse.
Myrick opened a press conference Wednesday with excerpts from “Second Coming,” the 1919 poem by W.B. Yeats that foretells the coming of the messiah.
“‘Surely some revelation is at hand. Surely the Second Coming is at hand,’” Myrick read.
“It’s a poem about the end of the world, a poem about the apocalypse. It’s a poem about traffic downtown during the summer of 2012,” he said.
Thanks to an influx of state and federal dollars in a thawing economy, Myrick and a team of engineers explained, the city was finally able to undertake infrastructure reconstruction projects that had been put on hold when funding was short.
In a walking tour with press following the conference, city officials elaborated on why some of the projects — reconstructing the East Clinton Street Bridge; revamping the deck floor of the Seneca Garage; demolishing the Women’s Community Building on Seneca — were necessary, and what impact they would cause.
The closure of East Clinton Street Bridge on April 30 will pose a particularly difficult problem for traffic, according to Tim Logue MRP ’00, a transportation engineer. The closure will block off one of two entry points to the South Hill from the center of Ithaca, forcing drivers to make a detour around the “turning fork”— the bridge on Aurora Street over Green Street.
To make matters worse, many of the detours themselves will be under construction. Drivers headed to South Hill, for instance, will only be allowed to use one lane on Green Street while the other lane is re-paved.
Logue said that the location and density of the construction projects will pose challenges for the City’s Department of Public Works, the body responsible for city streets.
“We’ve had summers that were challenging, that had some pretty big traffic impacts,” Logue said. “This one strikes us because Clinton and Prospect Street carry upwards of 16,000 cars per day, so it’s a major corridor for us. There are very few choices on how to get to South Hill, so all of those cars have limited choices. And the detour for that project has construction on it also, and then there are all these other private [construction projects].”
Despite forecasted clots in traffic flow, Myrick and a team of city engineers said they were thankful for the increases in city and state investments, which will allow the city to make necessary technical updates to streets and bridges.
“Even though we’re lamenting how bad [this traffic situation] is, we’re well aware that these investments are long overdue,” Myrick said. “Talk to the people in the City of Ithaca and they’ll tell you that it’s about time that we fix some of these roads, fill some of these potholes and repair these bridges. We know that these investments, both public and private, are worthwhile, and we’re happy for them.”
Assistant City Engineer Tom West ’83 said that the East Clinton Street Bridge — constructed in 1919, and repaired several times since — is near the end of its lifespan. West said that components of its infrastructure, on average, received very low ratings in recent evaluations, and likened the aging bridge to an old car.
“At a certain point you have to replace your car — when it’s more rust than car,” he said.
In preparation for the fuss that hot, frustrated drivers will likely make this summer over the detours, the City of Ithaca has increased communications with the public. They hired a public information writer, responsible for collecting information from the different project managers and communicating it to the public.
Myrick said he hopes that increased communication with commuters will sooth frustrations among drivers, give them advance notice to plan their routes and encourage walking, biking and riding the TCAT bus.