The U.S. Department of Transportation has given city leaders the green light to move forward with the next phase of streetscape improvements in downtown Goldsboro.

The estimated $6.7 million project, projected to start in 2017, was delayed at the federal level, due to changes within DOT, said Julie Metz, Goldsboro downtown development director.

"We all were geared up and ready to go last year and there was a delay on their end," Metz said. "We got notice Tuesday that we can proceed with certain aspects of our project."

The project will be primarily funded through a $5 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, TIGER, grant and a near $1.7 million match in city funds.

The grant agreement includes transportation-focused projects, including the continuation of streetscape construction along the 300 and 400 blocks of South Center Street, improvements to the pedestrian plaza at Cornerstone Commons and the addition of wayfinding signs throughout the city of Goldsboro.

The city will start seeking bids from design-building firms this month, and a recommendation could be sent to the Goldsboro City Council as early as March.

"Hopefully, by the end of March, early April, we'll have a selected firm to recommend to council to proceed," Metz said.

The firm would create design plans for streetscape improvements, including new sidewalks, reconfigured medians, the addition of parallel parking and other amenities, and an expanded Cornerstone Commons. Cost estimates will be generated and presented to city officials in the summer, with construction starting in the fall.

"Pending any issues with (the Federal Transit Administration) and U.S. DOT, we'll proceed with construction probably (in the) fall, the fall of 2018," Metz said. "It would probably take 14 to 16 months. Our hope is that it would be done by January 2020, but I think that it would be done before that."

The city will also start accepting bids in February from companies interested in creating 90 directional, wayfinding signs that will be added throughout the city.

"This isn't just for downtown," Metz said. "This is for the greater Goldsboro area."

The Center Street improvements, which will extend from Spruce to Elm streets, include the demolition of Center Street, decreasing the width of the median, adding new utility lines underground, new brick sidewalks, parallel parking and constructing roundabouts at Spruce and Pine streets.

The area will be developed slightly different but similar to the work completed in 2015 along the main commercial corridor of Center Street. The goal is to add residential properties into the downtown landscape.

"We hope to eventually solicit private investment to create residential development on this section of downtown," Metz said. "The intention, for at least the 400 block of South Center Street, is to have residential development of some nature.

"We've entertained some developers over the years. Nothing's stuck yet, but I think this project will help spur development."

Plans for the Cornerstone Commons, near the corner of Center and Chestnut streets, include more than doubling its size to 28,000 square feet. The commons is planned to have a covered stage, vendor shelters, a splash playground, public art displays, restrooms, benches, landscaping, lighting and a bus stop.

The $5 million TIGER grant is the second for the city, with Goldsboro receiving a $10 million TIGER grant in 2013, which led to $15 million in improvements primarily along Center Street.

The investment has served as a catalyst to the revitalization of downtown, with millions of dollars in public and private investment. Dozens of properties have been purchased and rehabilitated, new businesses have opened, and apartments continue to be added downtown.

During the last fiscal year, which ended in July 2017, the city reported that nearly 80 jobs were created, 19 businesses opened, 19 building rehabilitation projects were completed and $6.7 million in public and private investments. The majority of investment, $5 million, was made by the private sector.

The goal of the U.S. Department of Transportation's TIGER grant program is to focus on capital projects that generate economic development and improve access to reliable, safe and affordable transportation in urban and rural communities.