Walnut Street is getting a major makeover between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard downtown to Vann Avenue on the east side. It will take years and millions of dollars to do.

The road is going to shrink in some spots, but City Engineer Brent Schmitt believes it’s a good thing. Still, change isn’t always easy.

Fred Cook, a community activist and president of the Coalition of Inner City Neighborhoods, thinks money poured into 3 miles of Walnut will be a positive thing.

“There’s a lot of redevelopment going on in this area over here,” Cook said. “A lot of homes being built.”

Cook thinks Walnut can be a showpiece for a major artery of Evansville traffic and some added curb appeal won’t hurt.

“Anything that’s going to improve the quality of living in this area, I’m for it.”

The city is fine tuning plans for the first phase of the Walnut Street Improvement Project. It will rehab the road, slide in wider sidewalks, and tack on a trail.

Phase 1 covers Walnut between U.S. 41 and Weinbach. Phase 2 stretches between Weinbach and Vann. Phase 3 will redo the road between MLK and Hwy. 41. 

“It’s about making the corridor multi-modal so that folks that potentially may not have a car can not only take part in activities throughout the city but also reach employment opportunities,” Schmitt said.

Walnut is one of the few roads connecting the riverfront to the east side. Schmitt believes you improve it and you improve Evansville.

“It provides a reassurance to me that Evansville is becoming the vibrant place it is,” he explained. “A destination for people to come live and work and enjoy the city.”

The project calls for a road diet which will shrink the number of lanes in spots, but a dedicated turn lane could help traffic.

Construction is scheduled to start on phase 1 in spring next year. The whole project should be wrapped up by the end of 2022.

The city is hosting an informational meeting on March 12 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the CK Newsome Center. The presentation will be focused on phase 1 but anyone is welcome to ask questions. Other meetings are scheduled for different phases.

Schmitt says neighbors are most concerned about maintenance of the sidewalks, and that falls on the homeowner. Others also worried about drainage, but the project will also install new storm sewers.

But with some love and $8 to $10 million, city leaders hope this connection will be an even tougher nut to crack for years to come.

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This story was originally published on February 26, 2019