The road to more foot traffic — city plans to pave its way

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Not surprisingly, community leaders would like to see more commercial activity along Main Street, especially near the old state courthouse at Lincoln Square. That area frequently sees a turnover in storefront occupancy.

There’s a $7.5 million plan in the works to fix up the street and sidewalks in that vicinity, as well as other portions of Main Street that stretch as far south as the U.S. District Courthouse and the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts in Federal Square.

Construction could start as early as next year and the work will be similar to the recently completed projects on Front Street and the area bounding CitySquare.

City officials hope the facade and other programs and the “streetscape” project will help generate more commercial interest and development along north Main Street and in some other areas of the city.

They said that a similar strategy for Green and Water streets helped turn the Canal District into a nightlife destination for residents in the region.

“We want to get people out on the streets and to make the city more pedestrian-friendly,” said Paul J. Moosey, Worcester’s commissioner of public works and parks. “These kind of projects help achieve that goal. The idea is to get people walking up and down streets to take advantage of what’s offered at the area places of business.”

See related | Cover story: Storefronts a window into city economy

City officials said the Main Street project — combined with the continuing influx of college students, along with others living downtown, and the plans for housing at the former state court building on Court Hill — will jumpstart commercial activity in and around Lincoln Square.

“The north end of Main Street has a tired look to it,” Moosey said. ” We want to make it more attractive.”

In addition to work on the road and sidewalks, the facelift will include decorative lighting and benches, a brick-like finish to walkways, and planting trees.

The project will also include the installation of a modern interactive signal system that is expected to help traffic flow. Signals at nine intersections will be upgraded at a cost of about $250,000 apiece.

The federal government will pay about $4.5 million of the tab, with the state chipping in about $2.5 million. The city will pay the rest.

Other public works projects downtown also are planned.

For example, officials said streetscape construction from Franklin Street to Green Street is expected to begin shortly and it’s hoped the work might generate some commercial interest in that area, which stretches along the north side of Worcester Common.

A survey by the Sun showed that only four of 18 available storefronts have occupants.

Public works officials added that City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. eventually would like to do similar enhancement work on Portland and Federal streets. But that project depends on the availability of funding, and it’s expected that the city would have to pick up the costs.

Moosey noted that there’s still about $750,000 worth of work to be completed to Harding Street as part of the $6 million project to beautify the Canal District. He said he’s also interested in doing some work in Kelley Square.

Moosey said city officials are taking a more integrated approach to road work.

“It’s not like the old days when we’d fix up a traffic island and then move on to another,” he said. “All our work today is interconnected and that helps the businesses.”

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