Plans are underway for changes to Lebanon’s Public Square.
Lebanon City Council recently approved a contract with the Tennessee Department of Transportation for work to be done using, in part, state grant money for safety projects.
“The safety project is basically related to redoing the Square, making it more of a roundabout,” said Lebanon Public Works Commissioner Jeff Baines.
Mayor Philip Craighead told The Democrat previously that TDOT sets aside money for the state to address areas proven to be hazardous for vehicle and foot traffic.
Baines said the state identified 24 areas on the Square that are particularly prone for a vehicle to hit another vehicle and 22 areas that are particularly prone for a vehicle to hit a pedestrian.
“That’s why it qualifies for their safety money,” said Baines.
The design chosen by TDOT reduces those numbers of areas from 24 to 12 and from 22 to 12, respectively, he said.
“It pretty much makes all the movements from the Square right-hand movements…there’s less conflict with the right-hand turn,” said Baines.
The new design calls for each corner of the Square to become parking “pods,” with islands separating the parking spots from the roadway.
“This sort of returns it somewhat to what it was 50 years ago on the Square,” said Baines.
He said the city plans to add upgrades to the area while TDOT is doing the safety construction.
Craighead said that since the major work would be paid for by the grants, the city sought to take advantage of the situation by piggybacking other upgrades, lighting and landscaping, on the project. This would save the city a considerable amount of money, he said.
Included in the upgrades, the city plans to add new lighting, including new lights, poles and underground wiring.
“It’ll be poles that the city will actually own, and they will be set up with receptacles for community events – plugs at the tops of the lights for decorations,” said Baines. “They’ll be set up to where we can put up banners on there too because they’ll be our polls [instead of Middle Tennessee Electric’s].”
He said that many of the light poles currently in place were paid for through donations in memorial of people, so the city plans to retain at least some of them and possibly add a plaque bearing the people’s names.
“That’s something that’s sort of sacred to us, and we want to be sure that always credit’s given where credit’s due,” said Baines.
Other upgrades include decorative crosswalks and conduit for an irrigation system.
“We’re going to have green areas with a whole lot of asphalt and rooftop around there, so a whole lot of heat and very little shade, so we want to set it up to be irrigated,” said Baines.
He said the current plan does not include the irrigation system, but it does include the conduit piping that would be needed.
“We’re putting all the pipe in the ground so that when we want to do a contract, when we want to irrigate it, we won’t have to tear up all the pavement up to put in the irrigation piping,” said Baines.
Because the city is piggybacking the upgrades onto TDOT’s safety project, TDOT will include all the work – including the city’s upgrades – into one bid, currently scheduled to be let on July 11.
“It will all look like one big contract,” said Baines. “It’ll work a lot smoother for everybody.”
The city must pay TDOT about $497,000 for the upgrade-related costs, but the safety-related costs will be paid entirely by the safety grants. The total value of the grants will not be available until after a bid is accepted.
Baines said the project’s timeline also will not be available until the project is bid out and a contractor selected, but he said the project should not take long to complete after the work begins.
“Hopefully it won’t take but a few months; it’s not a long-term project,” said Baines. “Hopefully the bulk of it will get done this year. If they don’t finish up all the paving, they’ll finish up some final paving next spring.”
He said TDOT plans to work on one corner of the Square at a time, so the impact on traffic flow should be minimal.
“Is it going to affect traffic flow somewhat? Absolutely, yes, it’s a construction area. But it should be minimal,” he said.
“The Square should never be closed down,” said Baines. “The city doesn’t have control of that, but I’m not aware of any situation where it’s going to be closed down.”
He said the new design would be an adjustment for Lebanon’s drivers, but it should be worth it.
“It’s going to be a change; it’s going to take a little time to get used to, but safety-wise, it should be an improvement,” said Baines.