North Main re-opened for traffic to square

By Gary Scott on November 24, 2014 at 1:33pm

Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard drives from the square onto North Main. Find out more about who he drove with below. Photo from Jacksonville Main Street.

“You’re one of the first 500 people to come up North main Street in 40 years!”

That greeting was given to drivers in downtown Jacksonville this morning as North Main Street re-opened to traffic to the square.

The square-to-North Main connection follows the hookup of South Main to the square in 2012, and the renovation of the square itself in 2011. Construction on the North Main project began in the spring of this year.

Hutchison Engineering was the company that oversaw the project. Manager Jim Burke says the project went smoothly.

“One of the things we constantly battle is sub-surface utilities, things people didn’t know were there, and conditions of exiting utilities that we aim to tie to that are in poorer shape than we thought,” says Burke. “Those were mostly the frustrations we’ve run into. All in all, this project has proceeded without any large issues.”

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While there was no Downtown Celebration this morning like there was for the first two phases of this project, there was still a ceremony.

Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard took former aldermen Helen Baldwin and Tom Grojean, Farmers State Bank and Trust Company President Joy Becker, and Jacksonville Main Street Organization Committee Chair Kristan Becker Hoffman for a ride in the first car to go through North Main to the square.

“It wasn’t really a tough selection. I mean, there’s a lot of players that saw this thing through, but these were the logical choices for me. They’ve been there from Day One, they pushed this project not in the greatest of times, and I’m just happy that they rode with me,” says Ezard.

“We had a lot of great back-and-forth conversation on getting this project done, and it wasn’t just one person. It was a community effort. We’re glad we opened it up this morning.”

Ezard jokes that he was going to initially take an SUV this morning due to the weather, but he was encouraged to ride in a convertible, which is what was chosen. Former Jacksonville Mayor Ron Tendick was also invited to ride this morning, but was unable to attend.

Judy Tighe, the executive director of Jacksonville Main Street, says she was optimistic this day would happen.

“I remember actually a little over 13 years ago when I got hired, that was one of the questions was, ‘Do you think that downtown streets could be re-opened in, say, 10 years?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, if we can all work together and get the funding, we can do anything,’” says Tighe.

“And this does show we can do anything when we all work together, and thankfully the grant money was there to get it started and we qualified, and everything fell into place.”

Tighe says opening North Main to the square makes it simpler to navigate through the city.

Tighe and several volunteers for Jacksonville Main Street, as you heard in the beginning of this story, braved the cold temperatures to hand out stickers to drivers to celebrate the first motorists to go through to the square.

One of the drivers, Herschel Surratt and his wife Bernice, celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary when the square closed to traffic. Now, they’re celebrating their 60th anniversary.

“We were on the square when World War II ended, and everybody’s driving around the square tooting their horns. It’s seen quite a few changes. I enjoy reading the stories about the courthouse being in the middle of the square,” says Herschel Surratt.

Bernice Surratt added, “We remember all those stores that used to be up here: Gillespie’s and Kline’s. It was a booming place years ago, and we used to come up here when were kids and sat in the car and watched the people walk by and visit people years ago. We really enjoyed the square, I’m really glad it’s opened up again,” she says.

Listen to the full coverage from “What’s On Your Mind?” this morning on WLDS 1180: