It’s been more than three years since a key federal grant was received to rehabilitate Broad Street that encircles Mobile’s downtown area – known as Hank Aaron Loop.

That same grant program doesn’t exist anymore, having been replaced and rebranded 16 months ago.

But the same “transformative” label by politicians is still being attached to the $22 million revitalization of Broad Street. The entire project kicks off this week.

It is being spearheaded with a $14 million from a TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant the city got in July 2016. That same grant program has since been scraped and replaced by the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program overseen by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“I think this is a transformative project for Broad Street, which is a major corridor for not only my district but for the city of Mobile,” said Mobile City Council Vice President Levon Manzie, who represents downtown Mobile. “At the end of the day, you will find a rejuvenated Broad Street that people will be able to utilize for many years to come.”

He added, “Being chosen for the TIGER grant was a real feather in the city’s cap.”

Long process

It’s been a long process getting to a point where, at 6 a.m. Tuesday, the city will close the inside lanes of Broad and Beauregard streets from Lawrence to State streets in anticipation of the first phase of the project. Construction is slated to begin this month and last until late 2021.

Other portions of Broad Street that are included in the first phase run along Broad from State to Dauphin streets and from Dauphin to Canal streets.

The entire project is divided into multiple phases and will be completed by 2023.

Subsequent project phases will include Broad Street from Canal to Baker streets. Also included is a rehabilitation to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue from Broad Street to Three Mile Creek.

According to a city news release, the lane closure will enable workers to prepare the corridor for a future lane shift. Initially, all traffic will be consolidated and shifted to the east side of the roadway during the initial portions of the project that extend from Lawrence to State streets.

A media event is being planning for 10 a.m. Thursday in front of the Fredericka G. Evans Cultural Center at Bishop State Community College to commemorate the project’s start. The entire project will rehabilitate the Hank Aaron Loop by having two lanes in each direction and adding new bike lanes. The new-and-improved road will also feature widened sidewalks and a smoother roadway surface, new signals, lighting and landscaping.

“We’re asking for people’s continued patience as we make this progress,” said Manzie, noting that the construction project will involve lane closures for the next two years.

He said he hopes the disruptions are not similar to the problems created along Florida Street, where lengthy road closures and cost overruns have turned this $2.4 million project into an ongoing headache for city officials.

“I am hoping and praying that this is not our experience,” said Manzie.

Tree controversy

The Broad Street project has already encountered its share of concerns. Earlier this year, concerns over the fate of dozens of live oak trees surfaced before the City Council and the city’s Tree Commission.

At issue was whether the trees – an unofficial symbol of Mobile – should be felled for the streetscape project. No similar trees were slated to replace them.

The City Council, in March, voted 6-1 to deny an appeal from residents who protested the removal of 62 live oaks along Broad Street. The council members, however, expressed plenty of admiration for the residents’ passions that led to a verbal agreement struck between the Government Street Collaborative – a neighborhood group – and Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration.

Bill Boswell, a Government Street resident, said the mid-June agreement will preserve “approximately 30% of the live oak trees” once destined to be sawn down. One of those trees is a large live oak in the center of the roundabout at Broad and Canal streets.

On Broad Street itself, 18 live oaks received a reprieve, Boswell said, thanks to a process that reduced the number of parallel parking spaces.

The final count of live oak trees along the project boundaries – from Lawrence to Canal streets – will be 87.

Boswell said people will still see various oaks being cut down, which he anticipates creating some alarm. “But given the timeline we were working on, we felt like we got what we could out of this,” he said.

Other key points of the agreement included the development of a mitigation plan to find property owners along Broad Street willing to plant live oaks.

Another development was the creation of an advisory committee consisting of neighborhood activists. The group will include appointees from the City Council, from various neighborhoods.

Boswell said the group will act as a “community conduit” in relaying information between the city and neighborhood groups.

“We don’t want to have another big hiccup as we did on the (Civic Center) and the (Interstate 10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway) and a bunch of other projects that we have seemed to have had in the last year or two,” said Boswell, referring to two large projects that have been the subject of criticism in coastal Alabama this summer. “It has upset a lot of people because they are not mainly involved in the process nor do they have the information.”

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