As originally published in Daily Herald
By: Katlyn Smith
Photo credit: Bv Horne | Staff Photographer
Construction headaches from a major streetscape project along Front Street in downtown Wheaton are nearly in the rearview mirror.
The city is completing the first step toward a downtown revitalization that could eventually cost roughly $32 million over four years or longer. Besides replacing decades-old infrastructure and reconfiguring parking, the project will create new gathering spaces with custom-built features designed to set the downtown apart from other suburban business districts, officials say.
The first stage of the effort — targeting a four-block stretch of Front Street — will be substantially complete the week of Oct. 7. After that, crews will still have to check off punch-list items, but they will have finished the heavy construction, marking a significant milestone in a project years in the making.
“It’s really been a team effort to try to get to this point,” Assistant City Manager John Duguay said Wednesday. “There’s been several challenges.”
The Front Street work was scheduled to end by Labor Day, but workers hit some snags, including nasty spring weather. Union Pacific Railroad permits and soil contamination also caused delays.
The city awarded a $5.1 million bid to contractors for the roadwork and streetscape transformation on a segment of Front Street between Cross and West streets. Under a separate $1.3 million contract, crews replaced aging water mains and sanitary sewers along the same stretch last fall. Collectively, the contracts are about $600,000 below previous estimates.
On Thursday, a crew will apply pavement markings for parking spaces and drive lanes on Front from Cross to West streets, according to a notice from the Downtown Wheaton Association. Drivers won’t be able to use street parking on all four blocks starting in the morning, but spaces will reopen as soon as striping is finished on each block.
A new plaza relocated from the south to the north side of Front Street at Main Street is taking shape with the installation of a gas-fired fireplace at the base of an obelisk.
The city is awaiting delivery of an underground vault that will hold pumps for a water feature in the new version of the Robert J. Martin Memorial Plaza, named in honor of a former Wheaton mayor who served until 1990.
Planters made to look like railway carts — a nod to the city’s rail history — are being built for the southern edge of the plaza. Those planters will sit on actual railroad tracks.
Maple trees will provide shade for the 15 cafe tables and 60 seats around the plaza with catenary lights overhead.
Many of the existing downtown trees are stunted because their roots don’t have enough room to grow. To help them reach full maturity, crews dug a trench on each side of Front Street except for the intersections and filled the channel with structural soil meant to help trees take root and develop a canopy with ascending branches so storefronts remain visible.
Permeable brick pavers will let water reach the trees in an “amenity zone” with benches and bike racks — a total of 43 have been placed on Front Street, mostly on the two eastern blocks.
Wider sidewalks are another striking difference that aligns with the city’s desire to create a more pedestrian-friendly downtown.
The building materials chosen for Front Street will carry over to segments of Wesley and Hale Streets for the project’s second phase.
In preparation for that work, crews are replacing the underground infrastructure on Wesley between Wheaton Avenue and Cross Street and on Hale between Front Street and Seminary Avenue.