You may have seen crews taking down trees in downtown Utica this week, but why? It isn't because of high winds, its because downtown is changing significantly.

What's happening is the beginning of a $16 million project called 'ROUTE 5S SAFETY IMPROVEMENT PROJECT.'

The project will re-shape the portion of Utica that nearly everyone travels through, from where Broad Street and 5s meet to Broadway.

Expect to see a ton of construction in the area for the next few years  - the project isn't expected to be completed until 2020.

When it is done, downtown will look a lot different.

The project is going to make the area safer for pedestrians and bicyclists and easier to navigate for drivers.

Of course the project means those stretches of Oriskany street that are riddled with potholes will obviously be re-paved. Woo Hoo!

The roadway along Oriskany Street will be realigned and reduced to two lanes, a dedicated bike lane will be added along with new sidewalks and new curbing.

The highlight of the project that might cause some debate is the addition of a new roundabout at Rt 5s and John Street. The idea is to help traffic flow better in the area by eliminating a few traffic signal lights.

While all the trees along Oriskany Street are being taken down, nature lovers need not worry. Part of the project includes landscaping the entire area with 11 varieties of trees and 250 shrubs, with more than 9,000 plantings in total.

Among other improvements, park benches and bike racks will be installed, as well as more than 100 lighting fixtures along the roadway and trails.

All in all, this project should make downtown Utica more walkable and help connect neighborhoods like the east and west portions of Bagg's Square.

Here are some conceptions of what the area should look like after the work is done:

You can read about the project in full as well as see conception designs for the entire project at Dot.NY.gov, and at Governor.ny.gov.

Get ready for a new look downtown Utica.

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