The end is nearing for an enhancement project more than seven years in the making in Fondren.

The federal transportation enhancement grant – known to most as the sidewalk grant – began construction last fall and is nearing the “finishing touches” phase for most of the downtown Fondren historic district. 

What follows is a discussion with City of Jackson landscape architect George Ewing, who has served as construction manager for the job, and Jim Wilkirson, Fondren Renaissance Executive Director, who updated the project’s progress…

What is being accomplished through all of this work?
GE: The initial goal of the project has been to make the area more pedestrian friendly by improving sidewalks, crosswalks, removing unnecessary driveway cuts and other safety issues and provide ADA compliant access to ‘Downtown’ Fondren. For years, the City has viewed Fondren as a destination rather than a place to drive through. This project has increased parking, defined driving lanes and created more friendly pedestrian spaces by narrowing the intersections, all of which reduce speed in the commercial area.

Will Fondren Place and Duling Avenue be repaved and when?
GE: It is my understanding that these two roads will be resurfaced and that funding is available. All parties connected with the project would like to see the roads resurfaced by the contractor at the end of the project.

JW: Fondren Place and Duling, as of this past month, were approved under the 1% sales tax initiative.  Our hope is that this work can be completed prior to the time when striping is to take place regarding the grant.  There is high-quality, long-lasting thermoplastic striping that is a part of the grant to remark parking spaces, lanes and crosswalks.  Right now, there is nothing for it to adhere to in some places so we hope that paving can be sooner than later so that the new striping is money well spent.  Unfortunately, the winter breaks in Fondren Place and Duling have not been repaired by the city and have continued to deteriorate with construction in the area.  Hopefully, this will be addressed and dealt with in the coming weeks prior to the completion of the grant.

Why do we see some areas being started but then not finished?
GE: Prior to the start of work, (Hemphill Construction) submitted a plan of work that was reviewed and approved by the Consultant and the City.  Like those working in the area, we all want to see the project proceed in a logical fashion with as little disruption to businesses. The contractor has been good to follow their plan.  They have had several crews working in the area, sometimes on different phases of work, and in different areas.

When there have been issues where it appears that the work has started and stopped, it typically has been related to an underground utility issue. You will recall the major water line break in the winter (on Old Canton Road) that required immediate attention.  The Contractor has also encountered unknown underground fiber optic cables that have caused some redesign (and work stoppage) in a particular area.  Some of the issues could be just the time needed for concrete to cure.  Weather also plays a part in the construction and can hamper progress.

It is our opinion that all the work has been done in a well thought out manner to eliminate as much disruption to the businesses, their employees and shoppers.

Are there issues that have been discovered that will have to be addressed following the completion of this project?
GE: We have attempted to correct any unforeseen issues as they arise.  So, no, there should not be issues to correct afterward.

JW: However, there are a number of punch list items such as small drainage issues, islands that trucks cannot maneuver around, areas where cars think they can park, etc.that will be addressed as the end of the grant.

Speak to ADA accessibility: has this project 100% addressed the needs of the disabled? 
GE: It was one of the main components of this project.  City staff and the Mississippi Department of Transportation have reviewed the project for compliance.

With plantings come the need for care: who is taking care of the landscaping and other elements that may need maintenance after the project is signed off on?

GE: Contractually, the plants are guaranteed for one year.  Fondren has agreed to maintain planting and trash pickups in the area.

JW: The Fondren Business District landowners have now formally filed with the City of Jackson to form a BID similar to Downtown.  20% of the revenue brought in under this tax has been slated for landscape maintenance, trash collection and landscaping upgrades.  Right now, the BID vote is scheduled to be voted on in late October 2018 with the hopes that the BID will be in place once the landscape contractor’s warranty expires.

Is there any signage that is a part of the grant?
JW: New stop signs have already been installed and new street signs will be installed next week.  There are also four map kiosks that will be throughout the area where signage and an updated map of the area will be posted.  There will also be three landmark signs similar to the Rainbow Plaza seat wall and these will be located at the three entry points into the district.  The one at The Pig & Pint is partially up at present. Lastly, we hope to do a wrap to the signal boxes in the area similar to the art grant that happened downtown.

Any chance for new murals in the Fondren area as well?
JW: There are a number of spots that have been identified in the Fondren area for murals and there is a movement at present to get these all presented in an art show so that funds can be raised for the collective project to get funded.  Look for this announcement in the coming month.

There have been a number of items brought up on NextDoor concerning turn lanes on Old Canton Road.  It’s hard to tell with the old striping present where new lanes will be. Also, will you be able to turn onto State Street from Old Canton?
JW: The number of lanes on Old Canton between Fondren Place and Duling will be three. A north, south and center. You will still have a turn lane going into Woodland Hills Shopping Center.  And yes, you will be able to loop back onto State from Old Canton (at the point).  Right now it is hard to see, but they are adding more detailed islands for plantings to make this more definitive.

Why is the sidewalk so wide on the east side of Old Canton and where did the bike lane go in front of Fondren Presbyterian?
JW: The sidewalk on the east side of Old Canton from Duling to Lakeland is a multi-use path that is meant to be used for walking and roll through (meaning bikes, wheelchairs, etc.).  Once this sidewalk ends north of Glenway, bikers and walkers will have the original path currently set aside on Old Canton.  Going south from Lakeland, the long-term goal is a multi-use path to State Street that will connect you with downtown.

What about parking initiatives.  Any chance of things getting better?  Why is there less parking on “The Strip”?
JW: Despite what you may think and although some areas like “The Strip” no longer have parking, we have not lost any parking spaces as a whole.  The spaces on “The Strip” had to be removed because it is not lawful to back up into an intersection.  However, there are new spaces that have been created such as up and down Fondren Place and State Street in front of the Entergy Substation. All total, we have not lost any spaces. Going forward regarding parking, there are some new initiatives that are being explored as a part of the upcoming BID and we hope to announce these in the coming months as they develop.

What is the estimated final completion date of this project?
GE: This project should be substantially (90%) complete by the end of (August).

Posted in cooperation with Fondren Renaissance Foundation in an effort to give the public a timely update on the status of the project.