Marion corridor street project officially under way

Plan is to provide through traffic a way to get around busy commercial area

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A long-planned Marion street project that could take 10 years to complete finally got under way Thursday with a ceremonial first step.

The Marion Central Corridor project will eventually link Sixth Avenue with Seventh Avenue in Marion.  The idea is to provide a way for through traffic to get around the busy commercial street through the downtown area.  The first segment, costing $2.6 million, will cover five blocks along Sixth Avenue, from Eighth Street to 13th Street.

Marion city leaders, merchants and others kicked off the project with a groundbreaking at City Park on the downtown square late Thursday afternoon.  Even supporters admit the plan has generated some controversy along the way as merchants along Seventh Avenue worry about losing traffic and business to a cross-town bypass.

Marion Mayor Allen " Snooks" Bouska was an original opponent of the corridor plan.  His family owns a Dairy Queen on Seventh Avenue, and one of his issues in campaigning last fall was the street project.  But Bouska said he's feeling more positive as the plan takes shape.

"Right now, especially this downtown area which we're dedicating today, is a grand step forward for the downtown," Bouska said.

The five-block corridor project which starts construction in mid-May will turn an existing portion of Sixth Avenue into a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape.

Supporters said it will help make all of downtown more attractive.

Some of the more difficult decisions, including the re-routing of traffic off Seventh Avenue, won't come up for final consideration for several more years.

Marion City Engineer Dan Whitlow said the idea is to give motorists a choice.  When finished, signs will point to Seventh Avenue for the businesses or Sixth Avenue to bypass some traffic.

"We'd like to push that (through traffic) down to Sixth Avenue and encourage them to use Sixth Avenue and allow those poeple that want to be on Seventh Avenue to be there and feel comfortable," Whitlow said.

Eventually, parts of Seventh Avenue that are four lane now will shrink to two lanes, plus a center turn lane.  The extra room will enable the city to put in wider sidewalks and other pedestrian-friendly features.

The entire street makeover is budgeted at just under $19 million.  The next phase of the project should start in 2014.

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