A safer, more user-friendly riverfront could be on the horizon for Paducah's locals and visitors, provided the city's application for a competitive federal grant succeeds.
The Paducah City Commission approved an ordinance Tuesday to submit, in partnership with the Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority, an application for a Better Utilizing Infrastructure to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant to the federal Department of Transportation. The BUILD grant application focuses more directly than last year's on the area's transportation needs in making its request for $15 million in federal funds, Planning Director Tammara Tracy said.
"Every single (item) is transportation-related," she said. "(The proposed project) really sets us up to having a spectacular riverfront. It lays the infrastructure down."
The proposed project involves the design and construction of several elements on both the "wet" and "dry" sides of Paducah's floodwall.
These include, on the dry side, a multi-use path that will lead pedestrians and cyclists along Park Avenue from the Convention Center to the riverfront.
That element proposes improvements to four downtown intersections, some of which Tracy said are hazardous to pedestrians and drivers.
"Sixth Street and (Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) is a very dangerous intersection, because it's a blind corner," she said. "So we've asked for an on-demand traffic signal, so if someone is on Sixth Street and needs to cross, that will trigger the light."
Pedestrians also endanger themselves attempting to cross from the gap in the floodwall in front of the Convention Center to the other side of Park Avenue. Tracy says the city will address this by straightening access points and building a real median to clearly identify where people and vehicles are supposed to go.
"People have gotten hit, so it's a very big deal" to fix that area, she said.
The proposal aims to address two other intersections -- Madison Street and Park Avenue, along with Second and Jefferson streets -- that Tracy said are confusing to pedestrians, and to add bus shelters with instructions on how to use the Paducah Area Transit System (PATS).
"PATS is a very unique and user-friendly system, because it's the hail system, but most people are not familiar with it," Tracy said. "Wayfinding will explain the fact that all you have to do is wave."
The grant application also proposes the creation of a riverboat excursion pier and plaza; broadband linkages; improvements to the landing area near the city's transient boat dock; and a riverport container transfer yard.
The excursion pier will provide a docking point for the riverboats that visit Paducah, along with a less "daunting," safer way for riverboat passengers to access the foot of Broadway.
"From an economic development standpoint, it is very lucrative if we get this," Tracy said, as riverboats could dock overnight and passengers could more easily make their way into downtown. Passengers currently must navigate a steep incline to reach the foot of Broadway, so some of them opt not to disembark.
The design of the riverboat dock would resemble that of the transient boat dock, with a series of piers that float up and down as the Ohio River changes levels, she said.
"The improvements are extremely necessary, because just this year we've had two incidents where our riverfront has been damaged because we do not have a good access and dockage point," Tracy said.
The city identified the need for an excursion pier and plaza in its 2007 Riverfront Master Plan, city spokeswoman Pam Spencer said.
The area near the transient boat dock also would see improvements under the proposal, including better signage and more amenities.
"Right now, (boaters) land in a very unfinished area. It's not attractive or appealing, and we want to put our best foot forward," she said. "We're proposing a few amenities for where they land: picnic tables, shelters and a campfire point."
The funds would help to pay for the resurfacing of the nearby peninsula, which has experienced erosion due to river levels.
"Erosion control is a bigger issue than what was anticipated, because the Ohio River is getting higher more frequently and staying higher longer, so turf grass is not cutting it," she said.
The application includes provisions for a "broadband trunk" that will provide better wireless service to transient boaters and others in the area. It also will allow for the installation of emergency call boxes and security cameras, Tracy said.
The riverport container transfer yard will allow the riverport to handle general and containerized cargo, offering a more cost-effective means to move goods and reduce traffic on highways.
"Every single project has to have a benefit-cost analysis done, and getting trucks off the highways, encouraging people to bike or walk, those are the two biggest things to improve safety," Tracy said.
Tracy said she's hopeful the grant application will be approved. Staff used feedback from a debriefing with the Department of Transportation, where they learned why the 2018 application was declined, to develop this year's request.
In addition, the current project is more "shovel-ready" due to the city's Tax Increment Finance district ordinance, and it asks for less money than last year's.
"I think this is a much stronger, better ask," she said.
The city will provide a $1.5 million match if awarded the grant. BUILD grant recipients will be notified this November, and construction on the proposed project would likely begin in 2021.