Columbia Project Would Beautify Corridor and Eliminate Railroad Crossings


August 20, 2008

By Jeff Wilkinson – The State

Mayor Bob Coble will ask City Council today to OK a task force that will start planning a major overhaul of Assembly Street.

At an estimated $100 million to relocate railroad tracks and streetscape, it would be the largest, most expensive project in Columbia’s history.

Coble said he is appointing the group to identify funds because County Council decided not to hold a referendum on a sales tax proposal that would have — if approved — provided some money to do the work.

“Assembly is the gateway to Columbia,” the mayor said. “In light of the fact there is no referendum, we need to go ahead and start planning” how to raise funds.

Assembly Street is downtown’s main thoroughfare. But with up to eight lanes of traffic at some major intersections, it is the equivalent of a freeway running through the center of the city.

The street also divides districts both physically and psychologically — the Vista from Main Street, and USC’s old campus from its new Innovista research campus.

The goal is to eliminate the railroad tracks that clog the street, bury the utility lines that clutter it and make it less daunting for pedestrians to cross.

“Bridging that street is important for future development in the Vista and Main Street,” said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp., which guides investment in the Vista. “But connecting those areas is important for the future of all of downtown. We have to do it.”

A conservative estimate puts the price tag for the 25-block stretch from Elmwood Avenue to Rosewood Drive at $100 million.

That’s $2 million per block for streetscaping and utility work, and $50 million to relocate three sets of railroad tracks and eliminate five crossings.



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