[EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify the funding of the project with a Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD, grant awarded to the city in 2018.]
YOUNGSTOWN — A groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday marked the start of construction on the SMART2 Network to better connect — and help improve the economic development of — the city.
“I believe this is just the start for planning the future of Youngstown,” Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said.
Phase 1 will reconstruct Fifth Avenue and create an autonomous shuttle service that will run from Mercy Health's St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital to downtown Youngstown.
The network will enhance mobility throughout downtown and the city as well as improve the safety of pedestrians.
It will reduce the number of lanes on Fifth Avenue to one in each direction with left-turn lanes included throughout the road. Other additions include green infrastructure, medians, enhanced pedestrian crosswalks and upgraded traffic signals.
Phase 2 is scheduled to start in the fall through spring 2021.
First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver said by Democrats, Republicans, city workers, elected officials and residents coming together, it made the project possible.
“Each and every one of us, no matter who you are, needs to be able to see that Youngstown is worthy of investment,” Oliver said.
Oliver said the network will allow the city to be more connected to the university and other neighborhoods. He sees this project as a way of advancing jobs which will help to attack poverty and eventually reduce violence in the city.
Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel thanked the people behind the scenes that made the project a reality. He also thanked city officials who went to Columbus and Washington, D.C. to advocate for grants to fund the project.
The project will cost $30 million and is partially funded by a $10.85 million U.S. Department of Transportation Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, or BUILD, grant awarded to the city in 2018.
Partners on the project included Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Youngstown State University, Western Reserve Transit Authority and Mercy Health-Youngstown.
When completed, the project will connect Youngstown State University, Mercy Health, Youngstown Business Incubator and Eastern Gateway Community College.
Tressel said the transformation of Fifth Avenue will help to better connect parts of YSU campus and the city for research, education, arts, business and innovation.
“I can’t wait to see the end product because it’s going to be a difference maker for this entire region,” Tressel said.