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Street work started on Memorial Drive Realignment Project
Local officials break ground on the Memorial Drive Realignment Project with the traditional "dirt toss" Monday morning. - photo by Kashka Anthony / City of Hinesville
With a few tosses of dirt from shovel-wielding officials, the Memorial Drive Realignment Project got under way ceremoniously Monday.
The City of Hinesville and its Downtown Development Authority hosted a groundbreaking Monday morning to usher in the long-anticipated start of construction on what Mayor Jim Thomas predicts will become the "signature entrance into the city of Hinesville and Fort Stewart."
The project has been in planning since the early 2000s when a citizens group and a study by analysts with the W.K. Dickson consulting firm labeled the Memorial Drive section of downtown as needing "some serious attention," according to Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards.
Once a bustling business district, the area had fallen on hard times. Many of the formerly well-kept stores and shops that lined the streets had become abandoned and decaying buildings, prompting some to label the neighborhood blighted.
Part of the problem, researchers said, was the lack of a direct route from Highway 84 to the economic center of Memorial Drive, making it inconvenience to got to the neighborhood.
So to revive the district's commercial outlook and create easier access and more traffic flow downtown, Hinesville officials, led by former Mayor Tom Ratcliffe, decided to move forward with the realignment.
In thanking his predecessor for his work to get the project started, the city's current mayor said it is the first of many initiatives to breathe life back into downtown.
"One of the things that I see here is a vision that was started by (Ratcliffe) and the previous administration," Thomas said while standing in a vacant lot next to the United Methodist Church. "This is one of the visions that they had and it is the beginning of a new kind of start for the city of Hinesville."
The mayor said the street realignment, which when complete will provide a direct route not only from Highway 84 to Memorial Drive, but all the way to Fort Stewart, has the potential to bring retail, entertainment and residential housing to the area.
He added talks are already taking place to bring in a new restaurant closer to the Fort Stewart end of the project.
"(Fort Stewart Garrison Commander) Col. Buchs and I were talking earlier and we are hoping to get a restaurant on the other end of Memorial Drive," Thomas said. "And that should be the opening up of Memorial Drive to a growth that we need here in the city. That is going to be beneficial to the city as well as Fort Stewart."
DDA Director Vicki Davis said work on the first two phases of the realignment project, which goes from Highway 84 to Rebecca Street near Lamas Cleaners, is scheduled to begin around April 26 and should take approximately 18 months.
Both phases will be worked on simultaneously because it is the best use of the city's resources, she added.
DDA Chairman Brian Smith said residents can expect minor traffic inconveniences during the construction period, but efforts will be made to keep the disturbances to a minimum.
"There are going to be some inconveniences to all of us," Smith said. "So we certainly pray and ask upon everybody to be patient through this process."
Edwards said the first two phases will cost approximately $3.3 million, including putting utility lines underground.
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