Westerville officially dedicated completion of Phase I of its South State Street Improvement Project Monday, celebrating 10 years worth of planning reaching a milestone.

Westerville officially dedicated completion of Phase I of its South State Street Improvement Project Monday, celebrating 10 years worth of planning reaching a milestone.

The city spent more than $7 million to bury overhead utility lines, widen the road, replace traffic lights with mast-arm signals, widen sidewalks, add streetlights and enhance landscaping between Huber Village Boulevard and just south of Schrock Road.

The city also rebuilt portions of Heatherdown Drive and Huber Village Boulevard.

At its southern end, the improvements line up with an Ohio Department of Transportation project that improved state Route 3 from Huber Village Boulevard to state Route 161.

The north end of the project ended near Tim Horton's, at 772 S. State St.

The improvements came out of studies completed by the city about 10 years ago showing the opportunity for redevelopment along the aging business corridor, said Dave Collinsworth, Westerville city manager.

"You have an aging corridor that is 40-plus years old in terms of when it was developed. So we had some properties that were beginning to age and show some of that wear," Collinsworth said.

"The city was looking for a way to re-energize that area. It is our southern gateway to the city."

By investing in the roadway, the hope of city leaders was that businesses in the area would begin investing in their properties as well, Collinsworth said.

The streetscape improvements are akin to those along State Street in Uptown, the city's historic business district.

"The city decided to take the lead in that with the streetscape project: to improve pedestrian access, to improve bike access, to improve the flow of traffic and improve the functionality of the intersection by adding the turn lane," Collinsworth said.

"There's been quite a pretty significant investment in state Route 3 in the last 24 to 36 months. We think that this will prove to be the catalyst for redevelopment."

Some of that redevelopment already has been seen, Collinsworth said, with the building of a new Key Bank, the razing of an old Wendy's to build a new one and the revamping of the Westerville Square Shopping Center at the northeast corner of South State and Schrock Road and Westerville Plaza at the intersection's southwest corner.

With the first phase of South State Street improvements completed, the city already is looking to extend the improvements north.

"We'll pick up from that point and go all the way north through the Schrock Road intersection to the new entrance to the Westerville Square Shopping Center, and about a block each way on Schrock," Collinsworth said.

The project is being designed now, Collinsworth said, with the city planning to work on right-of-way acquisition next year, relocate utility lines in 2014 and construct the roadway in 2015.

That phase of work is expected to cost more than $10 million, Collinsworth said, with the higher price tag reflecting the larger scope of that work.

A third phase of the project has been identified in the city's five-year capital improvement plan, but it's in the "unfunded" category, with no finite plans to move it forward, Collinsworth said.

That phase would extend the improvements north to Walnut Street, at the entrance to Uptown, he said.

"That is unscheduled in our five-year plan, and that's going to be highly dependent on funding and whether or not we get some grant dollars for that project," Collinsworth said.

The third phase also is on a back burner because once the second phase is completed, the city plans to turn its focus to improving the intersection of Cleveland Avenue and Schrock Road, Collinsworth said.