North Main makeover 2.0 - is revitalization the road to a better economy?

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It's been a rough road for many who have traveled Columbia's North Main Street over the past few months.

But the work underway in a 1.7 mile stretch between Anthony Avenue and Fuller Avenue near Columbia College could be a path to a better economy.

Work crews in that part of the street are installing new water and sewer lines, burying electrical, cable and fiber optic lines and preparing to add sidewalks, streetlights, crosswalks, new curbs and gutters and other improvements.

The project is being funded with tens of millions collected through Richland County's "Transportation Penny" sales tax. The tax approved by voters in 2012 is designed to generate $1.07 billion over a 22-year period.

A South Carolina DOT spokesman says the end result will look similar in many ways to a major streetscaping project launched around 2009 to revamp roughly six blocks of North Main between Elmwood Avenue to Anthony Avenue.

That work was funded by federal stimulus money. The current North Main improvements will be capped by resurfacing a roadway now covered with asphalt patches and in some places, steel plates.

Orange cones and construction crews funnel two lanes down to one along with some parts of the street. But near one construction zone close to Earlewood Park, store owner Bedford Robison says she's not complaining.

Robison has run Classical Glass, a custom stained glass business on North Main for 17 years. She says the community around the store is looking forward to the improvements.

"You have Elmwood, you have Cottontown, you have Earlewood, you have Keenan Terrace over there. And we all have very strong neighborhood organizations," Robison said.

"We're very committed to making this a friendlier place for businesses to move. We would like to have more street traffic, people walking their dogs. The dog park is right over there. We want to encourage that."

Robison sees signs of economic improvement nearby especially across the street, where Cromer's, the city's unique peanut, popcorn and candy business, is relocating after decades downtown.

"I already know the property values are shooting up," Robison said.

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