Wattles, who lives in the 2300 block of Miller, is speaking of the reconstruction that transformed her street last year. From her home opposite Fulmer, she looks out on a small rain garden that she’s expected to care for, a crosswalk marked by bright yellow signs, a pedestrian island in the middle of the street, and a new bus stop where cars back up as buses drop off and pick up passengers.

Wattles’ biggest complaint is that the city didn’t do enough to get input from people who live on Miller before making all these changes. Though officials held public forums, she says, “some of us work fifty-plus hours” a week, and she was able to attend only one session. “They should have gone door to door, canvassing [from] Newport to Maple, asking [residents] what they observed, what they know,” she says.

Kevin Clark, who lives in the 1600 block of Miller, points out that “people had a chance to come to the forums,” but “a lot of people didn’t.” He attended the meetings, served on the project’s design advisory committee, and is happy with the results. “The islands are nice,” he says, and “I really like the rain gardens.”

A lot of the $6.5 million project is underground, including a new water main along the entire 0.9-mile stretch, bigger storm sewers, and 1,000 feet of new sanitary sewer. Responding to a heads-up from the city, Clark and other residents took advantage of the work to replace deteriorating Orangeburg sewer lines. Made of wood pulp and pitch, Orangeburg pipes were installed in many postwar subdivisions, but haven’t held up well and are no longer used. Replacing his Orangeburg when the sewer was already torn up, Clark says, saved him “a thousand or two.”

The visible changes include four new crosswalks with refuge islands, two new bus stops, and wider bicycle lanes. There are also twenty-two small rain gardens in the easement between the sidewalk and street, and two larger “bio-retention areas,” one in the Miller Nature Area west of Newport and the other in Garden Homes Park at the corner of Miller and Franklin.

Wattles has a rain garden in front of her house, but says the contractors “left the potted plants in the [rain garden] space, unplanted, for days … until they died. I doubt they’ll come up [in the spring].”

City project engineer David Dykman says she won’t need to worry about that. The contractors–Hoffman Brothers–are responsible for making sure the rain gardens are planted properly and maintained for two growing cycles. In future years, though, residents will be responsible for maintaining them. Susan Bryan, Rain Gardens Coordinator for the county Water Resources Office, says having a rain garden “is more like buying a new puppy, and less like buying a new chair.” The maintenance will be “more than just gardening.”

The payoff is less water in the storm sewers. “The amount of storm water runoff generated from a one-inch rainfall event that currently flows into the Miller Ave. sewers is estimated at 59,350 gallons,” Dykman emails. “This is a 118,300-gallon reduction of the approximate 177,650 gallons that flowed to the storm sewers prior to the improvements being done.”

And even if the small curbside gardens aren’t cared for, each will still capture and help to clean 750 gallons of runoff that otherwise would go straight into the storm sewers, says Bryan. “They just don’t look nice with weeds, but yes, they function.”

This spring, some drivers have been detouring off winter-ravaged Huron and Jackson to freshly paved Miller. But it’s already been patched a couple of times.

In the left turn lane at Maple, a joint separated in the new sanitary sewer. And near Wines, the new, larger storm sewer depressed the residential sanitary sewer beneath it, causing it to leak. “We have to cut the road open again” to fix it, the engineer explains with a sigh.

This article has been edited since it was published in the May 2014 Ann Arbor Observer. An error concerning Corky Wattles’ attendance at the planning forums (see comment below) has been corrected.