Columbia's Assembly Street getting makeover near USC

ashain@thestate.comMarch 27, 2013 

See an artist's rendering of the Assembly Street improvements at the bottom of this story

The days of University of South Carolina students making mad dashes across Assembly Street could be over by the next winter break.

The school is working with local and state officials on a $4.65 million makeover of the medians and sidewalks along a four-block section between Blossom and Pendleton streets.

Construction will include landscaped medians and enlarged sidewalks at streetcorners like the new ones found in the Vista. Cars will no longer park along medians.

“Being an urban campus, pedestrian safety is something we are concerned about,” USC spokesman Wes Hickman said. “This will be a beautification of the corridor.”

City officials are watching the work to see whether it’s worth replicating the changes north of Pendleton, to Gervais Street and beyond with the goal of keeping pedestrians safe on the six-lane-wide street. But making Assembly easier to cross also would bring Main Street and the Vista – two key business and entertainment districts – closer together.

Work starts next week and should end in November – a month before the new business school opens.

South Carolina’s campus has been migrating west of Assembly Street in recent years with construction of the Strom Thurmond fitness center, the Arnold School of Public Health building, Greek Village housing and the Innovista research campus.

Pedestrian traffic will increase before year’s end with the opening of the new Darla Moore School of Business building in December, next to the Carolina Coliseum at Assembly and Greene streets. The number of pedestrians there could balloon four-fold to 12,000 a day, Hickman said.

In the future, behind the coliseum, the school has plans to build two dorms with classrooms and additional Greek housing.

USC is covering most of the project work’s cost, $2.7 million. The remaining $1.95 million is coming from federal transportation funds.

Sidewalks will be widened, especially at corners, where up to 80 people can stand, said Julie Barker, a state transportation department program manager. New traffic lights also will be installed.

Parking along the medians will stop during construction and won’t return since the median will be widened to take over the spaces, state transportation officials said.

“That parking promotes jaywalking,” Barker said. Fences will keep pedestrians from walking on the medians.

Construction will require closing lanes but not the entire roadway. Contractors must keep all lanes open during the weekday morning and evening rush hours, said Jay Thompson, a state transportation department construction engineer.

The state is coordinating with USC to avoid disruptions during student orientation and graduations. Crews will not work on football game days. Sidewalk construction will be done in phases.

Some traffic patterns will change when the work is finished.

Construction will extend the median to block left turns to and from Devine Street, opposite the coliseum. Left turns to and from Greene Street at Assembly Street also will be prohibited after the work is done.

The school also is adding lighting and cameras in the tunnel under Assembly Street between the coliseum and Main Street, Hickman said.

The work near the USC campus could be a template for Columbia to continue the Assembly Street makeover from Pendleton past Gervais to Lady street, assistant city manager Missy Gentry said.

Columbia could keep parking next to the medians, which is seen as a way to slow traffic, she said. No decisions or timetable has been announced.

“We want to make the city more pedestrian-friendly,” Gentry said.

Possible detours

• While the Assembly Street makeover is under way through November, USC is encouraging pedestrians to cross the busy thoroughfare using the pedestrian bridge at Wheat Street near the Strom Thurmond fitness center and the tunnel between the Carolina Coliseum and the law school on Main Street.

• The school suggests drivers use Main and Huger to avoid delays.

• South Carolina has a website with construction updates: www.sa.sc.edu/assembly/

 

 

Artist's rendering of the Assembly Street improvements

   

Proposed road improvements near USC by thestate

 

Reach Shain at (803) 771-8619.

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