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Good progress seen on First Street project

Motorists heading to the government complex and other SouthFirst Street destinations face several more weeks of trafficdetours, but contractors working on a storm drain and pavingproject say they are making good progress.

“It’s going good. We’re speeding up now,” said Donnie Smith,project foreman for Dickerson and Bowen.

The over $700,000 project began in January with handicap rampand sidewalk work. More recently, crews have been focusing oninstalling a large storm drain from around Justice Street toMonticello Street.

That has resulted in sections of South First Street being closedas crews moved north toward the Monticello Street intersection.Smith said the new storm drain will solve street flooding problemsaround First Baptist Church and businesses in the area.

“There’s going to be a lot of difference when we get throughthere,” Smith said.

Getting to that point, however, has been tricky as crews haveuncovered a number of unmarked water and other lines under thestreet. City water department or gas company crews have been calledto repair when lines when needed.

“You’ve got so many old water lines that never have been killed,and old sewer lines,” said Lanny Dickey, Brookhaven WaterDepartment superintendent.

Earlier this week, Smith estimated that eight water, sewer orgas lines had been hit during the project. He said it takes aboutfive to six hours to repair the lines.

“It messes up the whole day,” Smith said.

Jeff Green, the engineer overseeing the project for the city,said another difficulty was that existing soil removed from theground was very wet and could not be immediately put back oncedrain work was done. He said crews had to be “creative” in tillingand drying out the soil before it was replaced.

“We’re making good progress considering where we are,” Greensaid following the earlier soil-related issues.

Smith attributed the wetness to different soil characteristics.He said the soil under the road must pass density testing or thereis the possibility for problems in the future.

He said crews are now dealing with a different soil type, and healso was expecting to encounter fewer line problems.

“We’re getting out from these gas lines, water lines and sewerlines,” Smith said.

Smith estimated the crews would be laying pipe for about twomore weeks, and another crew coming behind them is installingdrainage inlets. He said South First Street should start lookingbetter in a month or so.

Regarding lines, Green said there is still concern about aBellSouth telephone line near Monticello Street. He said crews willhave to be cautious when working around that area.

The South First Street line breaks have prompted some concernsfrom citizens that there will be more water lines hit when aWhitworth Fire Loop water line project begins later this monthdowntown. Crews with Greenbriar Digging Service, the contractor forthat project, have been doing some preliminary work this week.

Smith downplayed the possibility of line breaks with the otherproject, saying the water line installation will not be as deep orwide as the storm drain installation. That should mean less dirtexcavation, which lowers the chances of hitting lines.

“They’re dealing with water lines. We’re dealing with pipe youcan crawl through,” Smith said.

Teresa Lofton, who began operating Courthouse Stitch and Cleanin February, is looking forward to the South First Street project’scompletion.

Her business was impacted when the street was closed for fourweeks earlier this summer. At one point, she said, the street wasdug up and dirt piled high in front of the cleaning business.

“We couldn’t even see that building over there because the dirtwas so high,” Lofton said, referring to a nearby law office.

While South First Street was closed, Lofton said customers hadto park on Chickasaw or other streets and walk to her business. Shesaid she has noticed some improvements since crews have moved northand the section in front of her business has reopened.

“Business is picking up again, and I hope it stays up,” Loftonsaid.

The street project has also impacted parking around thegovernment complex. Courthouse employees said the work has meanttaking different routes and sometimes having to park some distanceaway, but they were tolerating the inconvenience and lookingforward to the finished road.

“It’s inconvenient for anybody trying to get here,” said CityTax Collector Pat Duckworth, “but it’s going to be a real nicestreet when they finish it.”