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Residents soon to face construction in downtown Jonesborough

Some changes are coming to downtown Jonesborough. And while these changes may mean temporary traffic slow-downs and detours along Main Street for the next several months, they also carry with them the promise of a better, stronger downtown area, town officials say.
“New pipes and power lines may not sound exciting on the surface, but they are important,” said Town Administrator Bob Browning.
“In the end, they will translate into better services throughout the downtown area.”
The upcoming project, which should begin this week, is a two-prong attack that involves both the Johnson City Power Board and town crews.
The Johnson City Power Board will be working to update underground power services that have deteriorated over time, while the Town of Jonesborough will focus on replacing a decades-old water line.
The goal, Browning said, will be to do the work quickly and efficiently, with as little impact to the downtown as possible.
“There is a lot of planning that has gone into this,” Browning said.
“We've been working together to identify what work has to be done, then coordinating the work to ensure we're only having to dig this up one time.”
For the Johnson City Power Board crews, the upcoming project means the chance to provide better services for its downtown Jonesborough customers.
“The original underground facilities were put in back in the '70s and '80s,” explained Homer G'Fellers, president and CEO for the Johnson City Power Board.
“Their useful life expectancy has been reached, and we've been having to repeatedly patch.”
While there was little question as to whether the line needed to be replaced, the real dilemma was when, according to G'Fellers. And the answer was now.
“We've been working with the town for the past couple of years trying to find the best timing for the town and for us,” he said.
“Our goal is to try to accomplish this with the least inconvenience as possible for the citizens and the merchants downtown.”
For town personnel, the upcoming project means the opportunity to ensure that Jonesborough not only looks pretty on the outside, but also functions well where it can't be seen.
“We've had several leaks downtown, especially around the Second Avenue area,” said Craig Ford, operations manager for the Town of Jonesborough.
“A lot of times what will happen and what we have typically seen in the past, is that after we pave, we end up having to tear it back up to repair a water line leak.”
Ford said they finally realized that the vibrations that occurred from “rolling the pavement back into place” often resulted in breaking of older lines underneath.
And that caused town staff members to look at both the power board's plans and their own deteriorating water line in a whole new light.
“We figured we might as well work with the power board to replace the older pipe with something sturdier while they were doing their work,” Ford said.
The current plan is for the power board to begin replacing primary lines the first few weeks, an initial phase that will hopefully uncover few surprises and require very little digging.
After that, the power board and the town will work together, block by block, beginning at Second Avenue.
“What we want to be able to do is work together in tandem,” Ford said.
“When we start at a section together, we finish together.”
As for the digging itself, the idea is to work in small segments.
“When we actually start digging for the water lines and the laterals (electrical service lines going out to individuals and businesses), we will focus on closing a small section of roadway at a time, using detours around that section,” Ford said.
Businesses will remain open downtown throughout the repairs and while traffic may be slowed, it won't be blocked, town officials promise.
Town and power board staff are also working very hard to construct a schedule to minimize the impact on downtown businesses, postponing much of the work near the majority of downtown businesses until after the peak holiday season.
Even daily work schedules are being fine tuned to reduce the impact on downtown businesses, with the option of starting work later in the day currently on the table.
“It's been a lot of planning, planning and more planning,” Ford said.
“We've had meeting for hours on end. I want our staff to be prepared, and I want our staff to understand the magnitude of the project itself.”
In the end, despite possible annoyances along the way, Johnson City Power Board and Town of Jonesborough officials agree this latest downtown project will benefit residents and business owners alike.
“Anytime we can replace our electrical infrastructure to make it more appealing for businesses to locate, it is really a win-win situation; not only for the increased tax base and tourist trade,” G'Fellers said.
“It's a thing that has local benefits.”
Ford looks at the project and its benefits in perhaps more basic terms.
“When you flip a light switch, do you want a light to come on? It's really that simple,” he said.
“The same thing holds true with the water line.”
For more information about the projects mentioned, call Town Hall at 753-1030.