SCHENECTADY – Asserting the government had “backburnered” key infrastructure projects long enough, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, highlighted the city’s Craig Street corridor project as a possible “model” in proposing to transform a community with input from people who live in it, starting with children.
The project is included in a new transportation bill passed by the House of Representatives. It is slated to receive $2.7 million in federal funding to facilitate its first phase. It’s overall price tag would be $4.37 million.
The .9-mile project from Albany to Crane streets aims to “construct multimodal elements and safety infrastructure to build a physical and social bridge to strengthen bonds and empower access in the Mont Pleasant and Hamilton Hill community.”
Tonko met with more than a dozen community members at the Electric City Barn at 400 Craig St., and the group walked to the Interstate 890 bridge on which many pedestrians and cyclists travel, in spite of its lack of user friendliness, project proponents said.
A Craig-Main “Complete Streets” study worked with the Hamilton Hill and Mont Pleasant neighborhoods to identify a design that would better serve the neighborhoods through creation of a safer, more efficient and more inviting corridor that takes into consideration the needs of all travelers, including pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders and motorists.
The project’s various components include a proposed separated two-way bicycle path on Craig Street, bridge improvements such as bollards and improved pedestrian lighting, with neighborhood banners to create “defensible space.”
More immediately, there would be community artwork on the bridge’s fence to beautify the experience and visually buffer I-890, thereby making the pedestrian experience more comfortable, project plans said.
A proposed Pleasant Valley Park with four basketball courts and space for picnicking, workout stations, an art wall with rotating murals by local artists, open lawn for passive play, and integrated skate/BMX park, are also within the plans.
The proposed plan also aims to reduce the amount of excess road pavement by extending the sidewalk, which would have the effect of preventing cars from Chrisler making a u-turn onto Crane Street, and vice versa.
The city partnered with the Capital District Transportation Committee to hold workshops to solicit public comment on potential changes along the corridor, which contains a cluster of schools, youth organizations and a spate of affordable housing complexes.
Key concerns from participants were pedestrian safety, vacant lots and trash and litter.
The report showed motorists generally obey the 30 mph speed limit on Craig Street, but it can often seem faster to pedestrians because of the wideness of the street paired with a lack of buffers such as trees and curbs.
City Development Director Kristin Diotte called the project meaningful for residents of the Hamilton Hill and Mont Pleasant communities.
Presently, the infrastructure doesn’t support pedestrians and cyclists, and so the project gave attention to connecting people to the local neighborhood resources and organizations, she said.
The project put community engagement at the forefront of the process of making decisions regarding the design, Diotte said.
Mary Moore Wallinger, principal of LandArt Studio, a consultant, said the project began by connecting with the community, and those connections drove them to “do things at weird hours and in different ways, and setting up funky furniture on the side of the street” to have an impact on people.
Tonko made his way to the city as part of visits to five Capital Region transportation infrastructure projects that he’s trying to obtain funding for.
Last week, Tonko successfully advanced all five projects through the House as part of the INVEST in America Act, a major infrastructure bill approved by the House and awaiting Senate review.
If signed into law, the projects would deliver more than $19.9 million in federal support to the Capital Region.
City Council member Marion Porterfield said her family has lived in the neighborhood in a home that they’ve owned for 51 years.
She said her family has seen the neighborhood at its high point, when it was more vibrant and occupied by homeowners, as opposed to today’s transient population.
“But now it’s starting to come back, and also the city’s starting to give more investment into the neighborhood, which is huge,” Porterfield said. “They talk about the millions that are spent now. But there was a long stretch of time when there was not a lot of investment in this neighborhood.
“People who live here are like, ‘Finally, it’s our time.'”
City Engineer Christopher Wallin said the project is prepared to go out to design when the next fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Wallin said the city would put out a request for proposals, rolling this project into another federal pavement preservation project for which the city has earmarked about $900,000.
But there are various federal approvals to secure, and because of the size and scope of the project, and the need for additional community meetings, the design phase may last about a year, Wallin said.
Tonko said that as federal legislators come together in building the infrastructure bill, President Joe Biden, in spirt, wants to sign it and get the dollars out because the projects create jobs and improve communities.