OLEAN – The project to transform Olean’s North Union Street into a more walkable, safer street, with a new water and sewer system underneath has yet to be fully accepted but final hurdles are not far off, according to city director of public works Tom Windus.

Paperwork should be submitted for approval in the coming months, Windus said.

The $6.5 million federally-funded project is intended to replace the failing, over century-old water and sewer lines that currently run under the street. Those lines have been the subject of state environmental conservation conversation with the city. If those lines are not replaced soon, the city could face millions of dollars in fines, Windus said.

Once the street is ripped up, planned to be no later than September 2014, a plan to replace the street needs to be in place. That plan has generated plenty of controversy, including traffic patterns and parking. Those plans are still somewhat flexible, Windus said.

A tentative construction plan has been put in place, in regard to how the project will move once final design is submitted and approval is granted. Windus said the city has to be spending money on the project no later than September 2014.

“We need to have shovels in the ground at that point,” he said.

Since the railroad crossing that splits the Jamestown Community College campus from the Olean Center Mall is the geographic center of the project, Windus said the construction would move from the railbed as a starting point. The first year would see the project move to the north, toward Main Street.

“We would want to move north of the railroad in 2015,” he said. “The southern portion would be in 2016. We will be working in phases, taking a half of the half at a time. The last thing we want is to impact any businesses for two years. We want to work with them to make this as easy as possible.”

Windus’ department gained experience in the process with the East State Street project that saw a major stretch of a main roadway completely redone over the course of less than two years with what he terms minimal interruption to businesses along the way.

One issue is the middle point of the project. Talks continue between city officials and railroad officials on how the rail bed would be renovated during this project.

“We have been told by one entity that we would have to pay for the rail improvements,” Windus said. “Another side said there are funds available to help the railroad in these improvements.”

Windus said residents will have a period to make comments and suggestions, but the final design phase would be completed by February. The project is planned to reach substantial completion by 2016, according to the general timetable, Windus said.