The ground may shake downtown from time to time as the early construction stages of 140 West Franklin development begin.
The $55 million complex, located at the intersection of West Franklin and Church streets, began its first phase of construction — rock blasting —March 8.
And for safety reasons, in five days the stretch of Church Street between West Franklin and Rosemary Streets will close for a year. One westbound lane of West Franklin Street will close at the same time.
It’s a project that’s been in the works for seven years. The complex, which is being constructed by Ram Development Company, consists of upscale apartments, retail space and parking with the intent of spurring the revival of downtown Chapel Hill.
The construction process’s first step is rock blasting —exploding portions of the ground to make a deep hole for an underground parking lot, said Town Engineer Jay Gibson.
To protect the public, safety measures include stopping traffic during the blasts and keeping a seismograph on the construction site, Gibson said.
“We will adjust the timing of the stop lights as need to be depending on the traffic patterns,” he said.
Another safety measure engineers are taking is the practice of line drilling, which consists of digging deep holes around the blasting site to keep the energy of the explosion from rippling into a larger perimeter.
“(We have) incorporated all measures necessary to minimize negative impacts on the community, nearby residents and businesses,” Kim Counts, spokeswoman for Ram Development, wrote in an e-mail.
Rock blasting can potentially damage neighboring infrastructures, so the development has contacted business and residents within 500 feet, she wrote.
Neighboring infrastructures were asked to fill out a pre-blasting survey to asses the conditions of the buildings before construction begins.
“They go around looking for existing damages and see what is new after construction and measure the impact,” Counts said in an interview.
The town has not received any complaints about construction.
During the blasts, traffic on West Franklin Street will be stopped for two to three minutes, signaled by a horn, town spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko said.
Westbound traffic can use the Rosemary to Roberson Street or Rosemary to Graham Street connections while Church Street is closed.
And despite the street closures, the Church and Rosemary street walkways opposite the construction site will remain open for the entire construction time, Lazorko said.
“They felt it was important to keep as much pedestrian flow as possible,” Lazorko said.
Despite initial hold-ups due to a market slowdown, the project is on schedule and is planned to be constructed in two years, Gibson said.
The development is being built in what used to be town-owned Parking Lot 5. To offset the 103 parking spots lost, the town created a parking replacement program, Gibson said.
“Now, it’s about the public’s education of where the parking is located,” Gibson said.
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