A long-debated project finally got underway in Clayton.

Several years ago, the state Department of Transportation announced a plan to reconstruct substantial portions of the village’s historic district. Crews will work on much of Riverside Drive, a section of James Street between Riverside Drive and Mary Street, and the section of Webb Street between Riverside Drive and Hugunin Street.

Public officials held a groundbreaking ceremony last month. But the work wasn’t scheduled to begin until Labor Day. The state DOT awarded the contract for the $9.3 million project to Luck Bros. Inc. in Plattsburgh.

With this extensive project going on, the village would have the opportunity to see some of its own long-ignored infrastructure improvements carried out. This included burying overhead wires, and updating aging water and sewer mains in the downtown.

These items are called “betterments.” The state provides part of the labor to set up infrastructure during the time of the larger project, which is then reimbursed by the village.

“We can make renovations to the waterline and sewer laterals in the historic district, which are 100 or so years old,” Mayor Norma Zimmer told the Watertown Daily Times in March 2016. “The water plan has been on the village’s wish list for about 50 years, and we wouldn’t be able to do it as a stand-alone project.”

Mrs. Zimmer raised a vital point about the pending work. The items identified by the village for inclusion as part of the state’s work needed to be done.

In addition, the numerous cable, phone and power lines dangling across downtown roadways could be buried underground; Clayton would need to pay these companies to run the cables underneath the streets. With the state DOT taking on this work, the village saw a meaningful way to save taxpayers a lot of money as it crosses these items off its checklist.

Clayton’s costs were estimated to be at least $3.2 million. Members of the village Board of Trustees approved a $5 million bond issue in November 2016. Clayton also received $1.5 million in state grants to help offset its expenses.

But critics believed that Clayton’s portion of this project was too pricey. They gathered enough signatures to hold a referendum in February 2017 on authorizing the village to bond for the project.

Voters approved the bonding — this was a wonderful example of civic engagement.Residents showed they cared enough about their community and this issue to become involved.

“The village had budgeted more than $3 million to pay the department for workers to install conduits and vaults beneath the streets so National Grid, Verizon, Spectrum and Westelcom can install underground cables and remove the ones overhead,” according to a story published Aug. 8 by the Watertown Daily Times. “The payment also covers a few new water and sewer lines. Streetscape enhancements such as new benches, ornamental lighting, brick paving stones and decorative plants were also included in the project.”

It’s been a long wait to get this work started, and it will take time to complete. The project is expected to go on until the spring of 2021 — this will require a great deal of patience on the part of people traveling through Clayton.

But the rewards for this patience will be realized when they view a downtown absent all those overhead utility cables. And the new water and sewer lines will last for many years to come. This is a necessary and worthwhile project, and we’re pleased that it has begun at last.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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