The road less traveled: Taylor Road may reopen soon, with work finishing up in the spring

City officials expect Taylor Road to reopen soon as the nearly $5 million project is nearing completion — and for some local residents, finishing the project can’t come soon enough.

Executive Director of Public Works/City Engineer Dave Hayward said that the road has “shaped up considerably” in recent weeks, and the city expects to finish the project in spring of 2022. However, the road will likely reopen prior to this final completion, he said.

“I think we’ll be able to open it up over the winter months,” Hayward said. “We want to discourage thru traffic because there still will be some construction hazards in there, but it’ll be essentially open to traffic whenever the contractor shuts down for the winter.”

The project’s improvements are to make the road “significantly safer” for drivers, bikers and pedestrians, city officials said. These improvements include:

1-foot roadway lane, one lane in each direction

A side path on the west side

A sidewalk on the east side

New curb and gutter, pavement markings and signage

Mini roundabouts at multiple intersections

As of now,Taylor Road is still closed from 25th Street to Rocky Ford Road, except to residents who live along that section.

Paving began Nov. 5 for the 25th to 31st street section, with the base and “intermediate layers” of asphalt going in.

“Driveways are all in place,” he said. “So about all that’s left there is sidewalks on both sides, which they will continue to work on over the next few weeks as long as the weather cooperates. And then next spring we’ll have a final surface course of asphalt to install and seeding and sodding in the yards, and we’ll be done with this project.”

The section from 31st to Rocky Ford, which is mostly finished, will also get the final surface course of asphalt at that time. Hayward said that they want to do the final paving for both sections at the same time so that the road looks uniform.

Two projects

Hayward acknowledged that the road has been under construction for the better part of both 2020 and 2021 and said there are a couple of different reasons for this. One is utility work, which has to be done during the construction time period. Another is the project’s use of federal funds.

“We get a limited amount of federal funds each year,” Hayward said. “We can’t bank those up and spend a greater amount. We can’t spend a lesser amount or we lose it. So we try to make our projects fit the dollars that are available — on the federal side, that is. And so that caused us to split this into two phases. And it looks like, to the casual observer, that it’s just one big project. But it’s really been two separate projects.”

Federal funds will cover 80% of the Taylor Road project cost.

According to Assistant City Engineer Andrew Beckort, the final construction amount for the north section was a little under $2.03 million, about $39,000 less than the bid amount. The current amount for the south section is $2,921,00, which is $78,000 over the bid amount due to a change order regarding water main line stops. Hayward said that the city does not anticipate any additional change orders at this time.

“I’d like to thank residents of the area for tolerating the construction that this project has been for the last two years,” he Hayward said. “They’ve been pretty cooperative. And our contractor and our engineering staff on this project have been pretty cooperative with the property owners. So everybody’s dealt with things pretty well, and we’re pleased with that. And we’re looking forward to getting the project completely wrapped up.”

Reaction from residents

However, while residents may have gotten used to the closures, some do have concerns and complaints.

“Making Taylor Road the same width from 25th Street to Rocky Ford Road, like I said, needed to be done for a long, long time,” said Janet Mabe, who lives in a neighborhood near the north section of the project. “…But I don’t think the way it has been done serves what it needs to do — and especially with the island that’s in the center, it doesn’t make sense.”

She said that putting a “center island” on the north end of the project was a waste of money and another feature that the city will have to maintain.

Larry Thomas, who lives in the Presidential Park neighborhood near Taylor and Rocky Ford, said that he doesn’t have any “big beef” with the project, though it has been a while and he’s ready for the road to reopen. He does, however, have some concerns about how the project has been laid out and some of the choices that were made.

“I don’t think it’s a very workable plan,” he said.“… Why would you take a road that is heavily traveled and where you have room for two lanes each direction north of 31st Street — and why you would take that and choke it down to two lanes and then, on top of it, put a median in the middle of it that the city has to maintain?”

He was also skeptical of the mini roundabouts that are part of the project and expects that since these are not elevated, people will likely drive over them if no one else is coming.

Mabe has concerns about different features in the north phase of the project as well.

“It already looks bad, because it’s not a boulevard,” she said. “It’s Taylor Road, not a boulevard. So you have a lot of things going on. Now you’ve got a divided highway on the north end, a small little roundabout at Fairlawn that comes out on Taylor. Now you’re going to have a larger roundabout when 31st Street crosses Taylor. So there seems to be a lot of things going on in such a short span of a city street.”

Mabe added that she doesn’t know how the south section of the street will look and can’t make a judgement there yet, but she feels the northern part was “a huge mistake.”

Thomas is also waiting to see the final product, though he expects that the road might have to be widened in the future as it’s become a “major thoroughfare” that will see more development over time.

However, he added that while he doesn’t agree with all of city official’s choices, he appreciates what they’re trying to do.

“Like a lot of people, I just think it has been inconvenient and I’m complaining when I ought to be thankful that we’ve got a city that worries about its residents and the quality of life here,” he said. “So to me it’s just been a slight inconvenience, and I’ll be very happy to see it open up again.”

Getting used to it

Residents aren’t the only ones impacted by the project, there are also local businesses in the vicinity of the construction.

Evan Bannister, a bartender at the Cozy Lounge, said that while the work has likely affected the business, it’s hard to tell how much. He did note that it cuts off “a whole side of town” from accessing the bar and grill, which is located near 25th Street and Taylor Road.

“It has been a pain for our customers and our employees,” Bannister said. “I don’t know how directly it has impacted us, because we still get a lot of traffic that comes in off 25th Street. But it’s definitely an ongoing discussion among our guests that come in frequently.”

The road work means that he has to take a different route to work. It also means that if people park in the back, there’s only one exit road, which he said can be “daunting,” particularly if there is a car accident.

Still, if the project results in an increase in people driving on Taylor Road and brings more business to the Cozy Lounge, that would be good, Bannister said. However, he reiterated that it’s “hard to quantify something like that.”

When asked how he might wish the project was different, Bannister said that more transparency would be appreciated, particularly in regards to why the project is taking so long.

“If there are hang-ups, then we as taxpayers have a right to know what those hang-ups are and where our dollars are going or where they’re not going,” he said.

Bannister acknowledged that there are likely factors in projects such as this one that people aren’t aware of and that it’s probably “more complicated than surface-level.” However, he thinks that it reflects poorly on the city to have the work continue for so long, particularly since people feel that their questions about the project are not being answered.

“I think it kind of puts a cloud, kind of a dark cloud, over that aspect of Columbus,” he said. “… It kind of makes me doubt who’s in charge. But other than that, like I said, it’s been going on so long, I’m just used to it now. It’s almost like Taylor Road’s not even there.”