OLEAN – Olean is not getting the funding to go ahead with a plan to add five traffic circles to North Union Street and narrow what was once the widest street in America.
But the more pressing need is to find money to replace aging water and sewer lines under the street as well as some streetlights.
“I have been getting calls to see where the project is and what is happening with it,” Mayor Linda Witte said of the traffic circle project. “We did not get the funding, so we will not be pursuing the plan at this time.”
With no traffic circles or a grass median in the plans to come to the city, some things will need to happen to maintain some safety and infrastructure, according to Tom Windus, director of public works for the city.
Traveling on North Union Street, visitors will see 64 classic street light poles with ornate metalwork scrolling. Those lights have been in place for quite some time and are starting to come to the end of their lives. In fact, one of those poles gave way and fell over in the last two years.
“We need to fix the lights,” Windus said. “They are a safety concern and are in need of replacement.”
Those lights are just the tip of the iceberg. Under North Union Street, and the crux of the project that kicked off the discussion of changing aesthetic of the street, are water lines that have long outlived their useful lives, according to Windus.
“Our water and sewer pipes average 115 years old,” he said. “They are meant to last about 85 years. The clay plate pipes are collapsing and we can see it.”
A drive headed north from the rail line that divides North Union Street proves Windus’ statement. The road, though not noticeable to many, is starting to develop dips. Those dips, he said, are places where those lines are starting to cave in.
“I don’t think people really understood the North Union Street project,” Windus said. “Yes, there were aesthetics that had to be developed, but the reason for doing the project in the first place was to fix these pipes. You have to put the road back anyway. Why not put it back how you want it to be?”
Windus points out that, in its current configuration, North Union Street is designed for one thing – expediting travel from one side of the city to the other. That does not spur growth in the city.
“I want people to travel slowly as they go through my city,” Windus said. “I want the people walking and biking to be safe. I also want people driving through to see what we have here. I want them to stop and walk around. I want them to notice things. What we have now doesn’t do that. Right now, drivers are watching the next light instead of watching the pedestrians trying to cross the street.”
For now, those plans to slow drivers down with single-lane travel and speed control by traffic circles will have to wait until funding can be obtained. Trees and medians also will have to wait.
Water and sewer pipes, however, cannot wait.
Windus is waiting for word on an application on a federal grant to replace the lines before they collapse and create a more urgent situation. He said he is not sure when that decision would be made.