The seemingly incessant construction on the Kaufman square over the last year has become commonplace for residents and businesses owners. But as the project nears its end, road crews have begun work on the most disruptive part of the process.
Road crews began the process of resurfacing the four main roads through the Kaufman square last week and have begun laying asphalt as of Monday morning. Along with this process come major disruptions as entire streets are shut down to allow the construction process to proceed as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Before work began on this final phase of what has become a $2.5 million project to revamp the downtown area that houses the county courthouse and numerous local businesses and restaurants, City Manager Mike Slye called a special meeting with business owners affected by the construction.
“The next couple of weeks are going to be really critical,” Slye said during the meeting. “We are nearing the end of this project and the last piece of it is the street repair. It’s going to disrupt traffic flow. It’s going to disrupt parking. It’s not going to be a pleasant deal. I know the last year, especially for existing businesses, has been hell. It has been very difficult to work through all of that. I commend you for hanging in.”
The contract administrator for the downtown project, Lance Smith, was very blunt in explaining the challenges that he and his crews will be working to overcome during this process and also how disrupting their work may be to those visiting and working on the square.
“This entire milling and asphalt process would probably just be two or three days if this was a ghost town,” Smith said. “But splitting it up into two phases and accommodating and not completely closing down the square is what adds to the time. Expect long delays. Use an alternate route if possible. There will just be mayhem going on out there.”
Although the project was initially projected to cost about $2 million, it Slye admitted that the cost has run up to around $2.5 million. The Kaufman City Council issues $1 million for the project during the planning stages and another $600,000 was contributed by the Kaufman Economic Development Council. The remaining $900,000 was provided by the state.
During the meeting, Slye re-iterated the key factors that led to the council’s vote to support the project and why Slye has supported their decision.
“We embarked on this project to invest in pedestrian and vehicular safety number one,” Slye said. “We just needed to make some safety improvements for your shopping and public pedestrians, and also to bring a new, energized economic impact to the square. We also want to inject a sense of pride as the county seat of Kaufman. It is an asset to us to be the county seat. Our forefathers saw fit to declare us as such and we need to take advantage of that. We need to take advantage of the fact that we have the only hospital in this county. We’ve got a great educational system. And now we’re starting to get some retail that is really making an impact. And those of you that have stuck it out are really going to start seeing some benefit. I really think we have the opportunity to make this a destination city.
“Lastly, we did this to control the type of traffic. You’ve all seen the 18-wheelers stuck at the corner of Life Church. We’ve made some design changes to accommodate that. More importantly, we’ve made some public policy changes that I’ve just gotten approved from TxDOT to create a truck route to avoid the square. But you’re not going to prevent delivery trucks and some other trucks getting through.”
One of Slye’s biggest concerns regarding Kaufman’s square going forward revolves around parking availability. Although he thinks the parking problem is more perceived than pervasive, he recognizes that it is a significant obstacle deterring potential clients from buying or leasing property on the square.
“The reality is we’ve got a lot of vacant buildings on the square and we’ve had some legitimate buyers looking at some of those buildings,” Slye said. “Their biggest concern was parking. The parking issue is really more of a laziness problem. It’s just common human nature; if I go to a store, I’m going to park as close to that store as I can get. But at any given time, you’ll see 30 empty spots behind the Annex. We still don’t have enough parking on the sqare to accommodate the retail establishments that we’ve got. Something’s got to give, so Judge Richards and I are working on parking policies for the county.”
One of the biggest culprits for the lack of available parking spots on the square according to Slye are that “bandit parking” signs that some businesses have erected denoting the spots in front of their business as exclusive to their business. However, according to Slye, these signs are not enforceable.
“That merchant might think that those two or three spots in front of their building is their’s,” Slye said. “It’s not. It’s public parking. And I’m hoping that we can eliminate the bandit signs. The last thing you want to do after going through what we’ve been through to dress up that square is clutter it back up with any and every king of sign that you want. We want to keep it nice. If we can get sensitive to the parking concerns, maybe we can live together and work together.”