Fashioning Fountain Street

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Gone are the scraggly trees, dilapidated buildings and underbrush that once bordered the site of the River Campus. In its place, construction workers are fashioning a wide boulevard with a grassy median, decorative lighting and a massive underground drainage system.

Construction crews have begun installing red paving stones in a herringbone pattern atop a gravel surface bordered by concrete curbs and gutters on the new Fountain Street. Holes in the stones will be filled with gravel and allow rainwater to drain into pipes and through an underground, concrete detention basin into a drainage ditch southwest of the new River Campus arts school.

Even the sidewalks are being constructed of brick paving stones.

Southeast Missouri State University is building the new campus on the grounds of a former Catholic seminary on Morgan Oak Street. The 850-foot Fountain Street extension provides more access to the campus and is an eye-pleasing conduit to downtown from Highway 74 -- the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge route.

Traffic in the 300 block of Morgan Oak will be restricted, beginning today, because of the construction project.

Ravine eyesore

The project has exposed an eyesore -- an old railroad ravine just west of the new street bed. The ravine is littered with old concrete blocks that once were part of a retaining wall. There are a few abandoned tires scattered amid the uncut vegetation.

"We've got a different view than what we expected," said Paul McLeane, a project engineer with BSI, the firm managing the construction work.

"There is nothing in our plans to fix that up," he said.

McLeane said the city will have to address the issue.

City planner Kent Bratton said the city staff is looking at its options, one of which would be to install a storm sewer and fill in the ravine.

"We will be getting it cleaned up, obviously," Bratton said. "We are not going to leave it like that."

City engineer Mark Lester said the city may have to look at installing a fence as a safety measure to keep people off the embankment. Lester said no improvements to the ravine are included in the current Fountain Street project, but it might be "tacked onto" the project once the street work is done.

Officials said the current focus is on getting Fountain Street -- two 24-foot wide lanes separated by a 16-foot-wide grassy median -- built before the new Mississippi River bridge opens on Dec. 13. The wide street will allow for on-street parking.

Construction work began in Aug. 18, and the street work is expected to be completed by Nov. 18, McLeane said. The entire project -- including installation of traffic signals -- is scheduled to be completed by Dec. 17, city officials said.

While workers installed paving stones for the new Fountain Street on Monday near its new intersection with Morgan Oak, construction continued on a 42-by-117-foot concrete detention basin on excavated ground east of the road. The basin will store water runoff, releasing it slowly through a system of pipes.

"This is a very well-designed box," said McLeane.

Three weeks of detour

Kelley Construction is the general contractor on the Fountain Street project, which, officials said, is more than 50 percent completed.

The Morgan Oak traffic detour is expected to be in place for three weeks, restricting the 300 block to eastbound traffic. Westbound traffic coming off the old Mississippi River bridge will be rerouted north on Lorimier Street to Good Hope. Traffic will then follow detour signs that will direct motorists south on Middle and back to Morgan Oak, police said.

Police Sgt. Rick Schmidt said the detour was mapped out by the Missouri Department of Transportation, which regulates the bridge route. Police aren't certain if the detour will cause traffic tie-ups, particularly for truck traffic.

"We will just have to wait and see," said Schmidt. "There is no good way to divert 18-wheelers when they come off the bridge."

Southeast Missouri State is overseeing the $1.18 million project, which is funded largely with federal grant money. But when completed, Fountain Street will be maintained by the city.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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