Danville Streetscape enters final phase; Engineer reveals why the project took so long

Published 6:44 pm Thursday, November 30, 2023

Writer’s note: This is the first article in a two-part series about the Danville Streetscape project. To read about downtown businesses losing revenue and about stormwater drainage, click here.

The City of Danville will soon be finishing the last major part of the Downtown Streetscape project – installing new traffic light poles.

City Engineer Josh Morgan said the new traffic signal mast arms arrived last week, and they will be announcing the installation dates on the city’s website. [Update: crews are now installing poles at the intersection of Third and Main. South Third Street is down to one lane.]

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Morgan said the installation will be a two to three week process that includes placing the poles, bolting them, and hooking up the electrical components. The bases for the poles have already been poured.

The traffic signal placement will cause some traffic disruptions on Main Street, because crews will have to use a big piece of machinery to set them. However, Morgan said the traffic disruptions may only take one or two days, since most of the other installation work involves electrical components.

Almost all other aspects of the Streetscape Project are done. The curbs are completely done, new streetlights and ballards are done, the new fountain in Weisiger Park is complete, pavers, painting and striping of Main Street, and crews recently finished the last piece of sidewalk on North Fourth Street just past Subway.

The city is no longer doing a raised median on Main Street. The original plan had a raised pavement median, but Morgan said they took it out of the plan because of the need for deliveries and drop offs in the median. They later wanted to do a flush median with pavers to be decorative. But Morgan said that KYTC asked the city to remove those from the plan, because the state didn’t want to maintain them and work around them for any road work.


Construction started in late June 2022, and the city’s original timeline was for the project to be totally done by May 2023. However, crews were still pouring new sidewalks in October on North Fourth Street.

Morgan said they estimated a nine-month construction schedule, based on the designer and contractor’s experience and estimates. But it turned out to be more of a 16-month project.

Morgan said every downtown project is unique with different challenges. If the city worked on only a road or only sidewalks, it would’ve gone much faster. But the project included new existing sidewalks on Main, Third and Fourth Streets, expanding sidewalks and adding curb bumpouts, new trees, new street lights, burying utilities, a new fountain, new traffic light poles, narrowing the road, repaving, and putting in almost all new electrical conduit.

The city set the construction schedule around keeping pedestrian access open to the front doors of downtown buildings. However, this schedule ended up slowing down the project because crews had to keep going back over little sections with different work.

The original plan was that crews would demolish sidewalks in front of buildings and pour them back quickly, in order to establish front door access to all buildings right away.

“In my mind, that’s two passes, that’s the sidewalk up by the building, and then we come back around and do curb and pavers,” Morgan said.

However, crews actually ended up having to go back for more work in front of buildings multiple times.

“But then when you really got into it, it was a pass of demolition, then it was a pass of putting in the electrical conduit under the sidewalk that’s in front of the building, now we pour that sidewalk, now we come back around and demo the curbs, now we’re coming back and putting in drainage and tree cells along where the curbs are going, now we’re placing new curb, now we’re putting in paver base, and now we’re coming back with the pavers,” Morgan explained. “There were multiple steps for each little section of sidewalk.”

He continued, “I think the only way you do it faster, if you want to finish a section, that means bringing in multiple subcontractors rapidly on top of each other, and closing an area completely.”

Since the city wanted to keep front door access to buildings, they decided against a more progressive schedule where they would’ve had to close parts of the sidewalk for weeks at a time.

“I don’t know how we could’ve done it faster, without closing Main Street for a long period of time,” Morgan said. “It wasn’t super efficient because we were being meticulous and thoughtful about it as we went, and that caused it to be a little slower than we liked as well.”

Morgan said they tried to set a goal that was the best case scenario, and that they were still optimistic about the schedule up until February 2023, which is when they realized it was taking longer than anticipated.

Some other delays they ran into included weather problems, things they found underground that crews weren’t anticipating, and waiting on materials.

For example, crews only recently placed the rest of the pavers on the corner of Second and Main. Morgan said they ran out of pavers in the specific pattern they were placing, and had to wait a month for new ones.

Some problems that crews ran into underground included finding old coal chutes in front of the buildings. Morgan explained that in the 1800s and early 1900s, there used to be openings in the sidewalks where people would deliver coal to downtown buildings’ basements for furnaces.

Crews found that many of the lids were still there and had to deal with them. Morgan said they knew there were some old coal chute openings on the block near the courthouse, but they didn’t realize they were in every other building on Main Street.

“We thought there were five to 10, but there were more like 40 to 50 of them, so each one of those we had to come up with a plan to shore up and make sure we didn’t impact the basements, that we made it a safe cover over top that the sidewalks wouldn’t settle in the future,” Morgan said.

Crews also found old wells, old cisterns, and drainage lines that they didn’t know were there that needed to be tied into other drainage systems.

“Every time we would demo we would have to step back and assess everything we found, and do a little bit of redesign and start back up again,” Morgan said.

He said that assessing potential problems with stormwater drainage slowed the project down even more.

“Getting the drainage and elevation just right to make sure it functions well when it’s completed, we really took our time to make sure it was correct,” Morgan said. “You can’t just accept potential problems on a project like this, if you see a potential problem you have to stop and fix it.”

When Danville bid out the project to contractors in May 2022, the city only got one bid back. In a Danville City Commission meeting on May 26, 2022, Morgan said that they had opened bids only earlier that week.

The commission accepted that one bid for $6.12 million from Pace Contracting, which Morgan said was higher than the original engineer estimate of $4.5 to $4.7 million. Morgan said they thought the bid was slightly high, but that most bids are high after the Covid pandemic.

He said the electrical components were the main driver of higher costs, as the material cost of conduit and wire are exceptionally high.

Since the city hoped to get construction going by early June 2022, they decided to go forward with the one bid due to a limited timeline, not many other options, and an immediate need for safer sidewalks. Morgan said they had met with other contractors who were willing to bid, but they couldn’t meet the schedule for the project.

“This is a tough project, and some of the other folks that were looking at it were struggling with knowing whether they could do it or not,” Morgan said. “This kind of project’s not for everybody from a contractor standpoint; it’s a very specialized, niche thing.”

If the city waited to rebid, it would’ve caused another month of delay, and they could’ve risked losing Pace Contracting for an even higher bid. Morgan said the city has been very satisfied with Pace Contracting’s work.

“We knew when we awarded the bid that they were the lone bidder, but looking at their experience in Lexington, Louisville and Frankfort and other streetscape projects they had worked on, that they were the most experienced contractor around to do this project, and I think that showed throughout,” Morgan said. “Their experience and thoroughness is why it may have been a little bit slow, because they knew when to ask the right questions and slow down and say if we don’t slow down and think about this we’re going to mess this up, so I’m thankful they were the contractor.”

To read about downtown businesses losing revenue, click here.