09/19/12 — Layers of history: Streetscape nears completion

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Layers of history: Streetscape nears completion

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on September 19, 2012 1:46 PM

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Roy Parker III holds a 1926 photo of what's believed to be the last time Center Street was torn up, following the removal of railroad tracks downtown. The Center Street Streetscape project is replacing infrastructure, much of which predates the photo, on top of widening sidewalks, replacing trees and installing a walkway along the median.

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Submitted photo

From left, Roy Parker Sr., director of public works, Alderman Emmett Robinson, City Manager Zeno Hollowell and W.P. Rose oversee the paving of Center Street following the removal of the railroad tracks downtown in 1926. Roy Parker III said all city employees and crews from Rose's business worked together in a joint effort to pave the street.

It's a night that lives on in the infamous lore of local history, the April night in 1926 when the railroad tracks were torn up.

The citizens of Goldsboro had grown tired of the noise pollution the tracks down Center Street brought in, so they removed them through a late-night criminal act winked at by the city, its newspaper and nearly all who took part in it.

After the tracks were removed, however, Goldsboro was left with a city center that literally looked like a train had, at one time, come through it.

This is when the city and its citizens came together to reshape Center Street into a wide, four-lane, two-way road with a concrete median.

According to Roy Parker III, whose grandfather was one of the insiders in the removal of the tracks, the road was torn up and repaved to look much like the blocks south of Mulberry Street look like today.

And by all recollection, that was the last time the earth beneath Center Street was exposed. Until now.

The Center Street Streetscape project begun in mid-May involved first the digging away of nearly a century of pavement and sediment, leading treasure enthusiasts and history buffs alike to clamor for the opportunity to use their metal detectors along the city's main street.

During excavation, Daniels and Daniels Construction Co. and subcontractors replaced infrastructure pipes and conduits that more than once were reported to be mostly held together by the dirt compacted around them.

There were pipes discovered that were marked as being installed in 1916 as workers sought to repair what was almost a century of infrastructure deterioration.

Parker, who runs The Little Bank at the corner of Mulberry and Center streets, said water that used to trickle brown out of faucets downtown now comes out much faster and is so clean his employees might even be able to drink it instead of bringing bottled water to work.

But District 1 Councilman Michael Headen said during Monday's meeting of the Goldsboro City Council that the infrastructure needs had gone unpublicized in the run-up to the project, which was advertised heavily as one that would bring badly needed renovations to the downtown area in a beautification and revitalization effort.

"We have infrastructure problems, and we were talking beautification," he said.

City Manager Scott Stevens said that while the infrastructure needs were noted, they could have been highlighted more, especially as opposition to the project built up mightily in the months leading up to the decision based on rhetoric that claimed the city was simply making aesthetic improvements to the 200 block of North Center Street.

In fact, Stevens pointed out, about $800,000 in street bonds were delayed from the resurfacing of Center Street in 2010 with the intention of using the money for the Streetscape project, which emerged as a priority in the downtown master plan the City Council approved in 2007.

Construction was originally slated to run from May 14 until Oct. 15, but a water main break, weather and the need to bring in soil have pushed the estimated completion date to Nov. 5.

Despite those change orders, however, the project is currently estimated to cost $200,000 less than the $1.9 million which was budgeted, roughly the entirety of the contingency which was factored into the final cost.

Planning Director Randy Guthrie said Monday night that there likely wouldn't be any more change orders as the excavation phase of the project has ended and workers have begun to piece the block back together.

The curbs and gutters were poured early this week and the street is beginning to take shape, just as it did more than 80 years ago.

The circumstances are different and there is less of a criminal element than the last time, but the aim is still the same: making Goldsboro's downtown a better place to be.