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OLEAN – A roll-call vote and the stroke of a pen started the wheels rolling on the long-debated project to change the look of North Union Street.

The Common Council on Tuesday night formally accepted $6.5 million in federal funding to make the project a reality.

Although the streetscape design – featuring five roundabouts, a median and lane reduction – have spurred a public debate, the project fills a deeper need.

City Director of Public Works Tom Windus made sure to point out to the nearly 50 people on hand for the Council’s public information meeting that key to the project is infrastructure improvement – the replacement and repair of century-old water and sewer pipes beneath the main street in the heart of the city.

State Department of Environmental Conservation officials have been after the city to do those upgrades. The federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant, one of only three awarded in New York State, will go a long way toward meeting those infrastructure needs – estimated to cost about $1 million.

The project also means the city will be able to sidestep millions of dollars in state fines, according to Windus.

The project to replace both infrastructure and thoroughfare will be done “in quarters,” according to Jeffrey Lebsack of the Buffalo office of Hatch Mott McDonald

“The work would start at one end, on one side of the street,” he said. “We want to minimize the impact we have on the businesses that are already on North Union Street.”

Construction, expected to get under way next September, will take two years, Lebsack said. But first, there is engineering and design work, as well approval of plans by state and federal transportation officials.

The design presented during the informational meeting shows the removal of seven signaled intersections on the street. Five of those intersections – Union Street with State Street, Main Street, Wayne Street, Jamestown Community College and the Olean Center Mall entrance – will feature roundabouts. The roundabout at Wayne will be able to accommodate multi-axle truck traffic from Dresser-Rand, Lesback said.,

The other two intersections – Laurens and Delaware streets – will be feature ”right-in, right-out,” merging approach, he added.

The remainder of the stretch, North Union Street, will be reduced from four lanes to two, 11-foot-wide lanes with a one-foot buffer along the side of a staggered, 8-foot wide, raised median, Windus said. Several lower-grade medians will be installed as emergency-vehicle turnarounds.

Other components include a 6-foot-wide bicycle lane and wider sidewalks.

Changes also are envisioned for the at-grade crossing of the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad, just south of the Olean Center Mall. Railroad President Carl P. Belke said during a Monday meeting of the board of the Southern Tier Rail Extension Authority that crossing work could result in a much quieter and safer crossing.

In all, the Council approved resolutions accepting the grant, providing a project account line, funding that line and approving the contract with Hatch Mott McDonald as project consultants.