Yesterday I drove through the nearly completed Oneida Square roundabout. To my surprise and delight it truly works! Here are a few reasons why I think it's so great:
Traveling South on State St., you now have the opportunity to get any where in the city in record time. No more sitting in the middle of traffic waiting for some ancient signal to crank over from red to green. Smooth, almost rythmic flow around the center island allows you to get north, south or east in fluid motion.
I can drive up State St. and get immediate access to Park Ave, Oneida St, Genesee St. north or south-something that was impossible before.
The landscaping that will be completed will transform the shabby, down and out Oneida Square neighborhood into something that the city can actually be proud of. The historic lighting, pavers, new granite curbs and trees and shrubs that will be planted as part of the redesign will hopefully inspire the business and property owners to start enhancing and improving their properties.
Who deserves the credit for this project? The Mayor would like the city to believe that this was his "brainchild," as he has stated in the past. True, he does deserve some credit. As chief officer of the city, he could have stopped the project with the wave of his hand. But, he actually listened to his staff, of which I was one voice, when we advised him to consider the options presented early in his administration. Where was the original idea concieved? Who thought it up?
One person deserves the credit-Mike Shamma, regional D.O.T. Director.
In late 2007, the Julian Administration came up with a plan to re-route traffic around the Oneida Square Monument. It was a hastily thought up, election year proposal that was met with resounding criticism from the city. It did, however, get people thinking- what can we do to address the horrific condition of most of Oneida Square and at the same time improve traffic flow?
One of those people was Mike Shamma. Realizing that Utica was about to embark upon a costly replacement of the antiquated traffic signals on the square, he thought "roundabout." Why would we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on replacement traffic signals when we could use that money to truly transform the area with a signature project that could be the catylist for change in the heart of the city?
The City of Glens Falls, near the Capital District, had recently completed such a project in their downtown. Initially met with criticism and anger, the project had,after completion, helped transform the neighborhoods that surround it. The business community of Glens Falls assembled a team armed with a video and testimonials that traveled to Utica and made a presentation in City Hall. Their city had benefitted from this project and they believed ours could as well.
If it worked there, could it work here? After initial engineering studies and cost estimates, the D.O.T. staff came to the conclusion that Oneida Square was a perfect candidate for a roundabout.
For once, Utica acted "progressive." We did not reject an idea based on false information, fear of change or just because, well, we like to reject ideas.
Construction started inthe spring and proceeded pretty much on schedule. Now, it's open and traffic seems to be running smoothly. Utica "gets it ."
The Mayor made a statement recently that, because of the roundabout, "everyone will want to move down here." That's probably not true. What will hopefully happen is that, because of the public improvements and investment that has been pumped into the area, property owners will feel inspired to make investments of their own. That will be where the true change will come from-the people who have a stake in the neighborhood.
For me, I'm gonna go drive around it again!