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Quail St. Project: Making Albany Permeable

One of Albany's busiest thoroughfares is getting a makeover, but there's more to the project than meets the eye.

"For a really longtime, Quail Street was really sort of seen as forgotten, and ignored. And so we needed to look at Quail Street in a new way and be able to invest in it and to beautify it and to really hold it out as the anchor of what is a wonderful, thriving university and school district that is here. And we also needed to solve a problem that we've had with our aging infrastructure and with flooding,"  said Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who was joined Thursday morning at the corner of Quail St. and Western Ave. by government officials and local business owners to mark the completion of the first phase of the Quail Street Green Infrastructure Project.

It's much more than cosmetics. The project is designed to meet the challenges of climate change and includes installation of a porous pavement surface between the sidewalk and the curb through which rainwater can flow into underground storage areas consisting of stone and soil.

Officials say this filters rainwater and slows its release into Albany’s combined sewer system, helping mitigate overflow of sewage into the Hudson River during heavy rainstorms. They also help prevent water backing up onto streets and flooding basements of homes and other buildings.

Sheehan added  "We're not done yet, but we have finished a phase. Cars have been driving back and forth, wondering what on earth is going on. It's been a little bit disruptive, but we wanted to be able to unveil that first phase so that people could see what we're doing and what we're going to be continuing to do as we complete this project."

In addition to the overflow mitigation, the city says the project shows green infrastructure can fit into the cityscape.  Funding comes from the NY State Environmental Facilities Corporation’s Green Innovation Grant Program, which contributed nearly $1.8 million. The Water Board added $682,000, and city contributed $293,000 more. Another $300,000 grant designated by state Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy will soon be added to the bank.  "We are facing some very serious extreme weather patterns. Preparing, looking forward, and getting ready for that, is needed now and needed in the future," said Fahy.

Long-time local businessman Brian Kovelman owns neighborhood eatery Mild Wally's. He conceded it's been an arduous summer with the construction mess, but appreciated efforts by the city to keep Quail Street open.  "The neighborhood beautification is a long time coming and it really does look fantastic. We are so pleased. We're really overwhelmingly pleased to have been selected for this and to be selected so high up on the list and to receive the kind of attention that Quail Street has needed for a long time."

Construction crews have been busy replacing sidewalks and curbs, restriping crosswalks, and adding trees and water-absorbing plants, including flowers and grasses, along the curb. Officials note one advantage to lining a street with trees is that they reduce the “optical width” of a road, which slows down drivers, making a street more hospitable to pedestrians and cyclists.

“Thanks to Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York has successfully expanded the development of green projects statewide, incorporating green infrastructure as a key solution to address wastewater and stormwater pollution,” said Environmental Facilities Corporation President and CEO Sabrina M. Ty. “EFC is pleased to have been able to support this project with almost $1.8 million in green grants through the Green Innovation Grant Program and congratulates the City of Albany on this accomplishment.”

“These visual changes are brightening up Quail Street, a corridor that connects Pine Hills neighbors to Central Avenue and West Hill,” said Albany Common Council Member Leah Golby, who represents a portion of Quail Street undergoing improvements. “The new sidewalks and plantings make the street more attractive to small business investment. It’s also an important step forward to help relieve flooding on residential streets in the area such as Elberon Place.”

“As we update our water and sewer systems and expand our flood mitigation efforts, the Quail Street project can serve as a template to use as we expand green infrastructure stormwater management throughout the City,” said Albany Water Board Commissioner Joe Coffey.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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