ALMA — Construction crews in Alma are taking full advantage of a break in the rain to ramp up progress in the street projects that have engulfed the city.

Crews continue with improvements on Collum Lane, the Y intersection at Cherry Street and the downtown Streetscape Project.

“We’re ahead of schedule on the Y intersection,” said Alma Public Works Director Mark Yardley. “It was scheduled for October completion. We’re actually ahead of the game there. We’re a little behind schedule on Collum Lane. Our goal was to finish that one early because of the pool opening. We were trying to limit the amount of impact on the swimming pool traffic.”

In an effort to get back on track on the Collum Lane project, some of the foundation crews were moved from the work at Cherry Street to help at Collum Lane with a goal of finishing by the July 6 fireworks celebration.

As for the Streetscape Project, Yardley said it is scheduled to last “until probably July of next year,” adding, “That’s what the contractor is being allowed in the way of time. It may be that it takes that long, but I’m hoping they’ll complete it before that time.”

“We say we’ve been talking about this Streetscape Project for what seems like years and it has been years,” said Mayor Jerry Martin. “It’s finally underway.”

Steve Beam Construction, which is working on the Streetscape Project, installed parking lots on both sides of Fayetteville Avenue for additional parking since parking isn’t being allowed on the street where construction is taking place.

The parking lots are rolled gravel, making them “fairly smooth and maneuverable,” according to Yardley.

“We will get all the construction work done — sidewalks, medians, curbs — and then, in the end, they will overlay the streets and the parking lots so the parking lots won’t get messed up during the construction process,” he said.

Crews have been tackling the big underground storm drainage system on the southern end of Fayetteville Avenue. Next is the pouring of curbs and sidewalks, which will include wells for trees along the street.

“There will be a section of stamped concrete between the curb and the sidewalk along the path where the tree wells will be in the sidewalk,” said Yardley. “The tree wells are like iron grates that go around the trees that allow water to get to the tree roots and allow the trees to breathe. There will also be a row of stamped concrete that will look like red brick border on the sidewalk.”

Yardley said the trees won’t be planted until the end of the project. Root barriers will also be installed to force the tree roots to grow down instead of just under the paved surface and concrete.

The medians will also be installed near the end of the project.

A total of 75 trees will be planted downtown, some expected to grow to heights of 25 feet. There will also be 537 shrubs and over 11,000 plants included in the streetscape.

“This is truly a landscape project, which is why instead of a street improvement project we call it a streetscape project,” said Yardley. “An enormous amount of landscaping is being put in and that’s what’s going to make the difference of what this is going to look like. There will be some turf, but most of the area that’s going to be exposed will be ground cover or perennials or shrubs or trees. There’s going to be very little grass to deal with on our part.”

Along with the construction comes some inconveniences. Merchants along Fayetteville Avenue are being informed as to the construction plans as the project continues and crews are working to make sure shoppers have as few problems as possible getting into the shops.

“One of the things we’ve really stressed on this is communication,” said Martin. “Because of all the construction work we’ve got going on around town we realize it’s an inconvenience, and we don’t want it to be any more of an inconvenience than it has to be for no longer than it has to be. So we’ve wanted to make sure from the very git-go that we communicate effectively, especially with the business owners that will be effected in the downtown area.”

Yardley said customers coming into his office to pay their bills are being directed to come in through an access at the back of the building. That may not be the case, though, for other businesses along the street.

“We have pedestrian access from the back but some of these businesses don’t have access or where it’s not appropriate for customers to come through that way,” he said. “On those, (the construction workers) are going to maintain access from the front all the time. Unfortunately it’s going to be maybe a five-foot-wide path of gravel from the street to the door. It will be like that while they’re working on that part.”

He added, “There’s going to be a day when they’re pouring the sidewalk and you can’t walk across there. (The construction manager) is going to coordinate with them and they’ll know in advance when that’s going to happen.”

Yardley said his office can help other businesses with signage to direct customers into their stores.

“We have our sign that says, ‘Access in the back,’ and we can print signs here for other business if they want one,” he said.

Martin hopes the excitement of the project and its improvements to downtown Alma will help ease the inconveniences.

“When they were tearing up these sidewalks it got really loud over here. Extremely loud,” he said. “And as much of an aggravation as it was, there was also a lot of excitement to this also because it’s been a long time coming. It’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time and so to be finally able to get this project underway … not only is this the start of a beautification process for the city, it’s the start of a revitalization for the downtown area.”

Martin added that the beautification plans are spilling over to the I-40/Highway 71 corridor, where plans call for planting of trees in that area in the fall.

“There are a lot of different projects that are now starting to get their footing,” he said. “It’s not just the downtown area that we’re focused on — although we are focused on downtown area — but it’s a city-wide project we’ve started now.”