The impact the Clean Water Project has had on Hartford traffic is well known to area residents and commuters. Less well known are its affects on small businesses. The MDC is working to improve both issues, but satisfying all stakeholders has proven to be difficult. WNPR’s J Holt has the story.
This past Friday, an excavator was moving buckets of earth from between two houses on Garden Street at Bedford to a dump truck waiting at the sidewalk. On Bedford, a crew had cut a trench down the middle of the road to install sewer connections for adjacent homes.
Construction Worker- “We’re gonna clean the road up and put asphalt down on our trenches this afternoon.”
Back around the corner at Garden and Albany Avenue, there was no sign of any construction work, but up until two weeks ago,
Monica Ross- “It was awful.”
That’s Monica Ross, who runs Uniforms And Stuff with her two sisters, in a building they saved from demolition 15 years ago.
Ross- “There were Jersey barriers on garden st, both sides. Albany Avenue, one lane up and down. There was no parking out front. To get to our parking they had to go a street down, and come around and come up here.”
Their part of Albany Avenue has been in some state of construction for much of the last year, and the most recent work involved a trench that was open in the road for over six weeks.
Gordon Scott, who’s Scott’s Jamaican Bakery has had three stores in the Upper Albany area since the early 1980’s and currently employs 43 people, experienced another phase of the project in front of his North Main Street location.
Gordon Scott- “On a day to day basis I could have been off by as much as fifty percent. Overall, probably, during the time of work, about 25 percent down. And, in my business, if I have a five percent profit margin I’m grateful. So when I’m 25 percent down I’m well into the red.”
All of this work is part of the Clean Water Project, a 15 year, 2.1 billion dollar program managed by the Metropolitan District, or MDC. Work began in 2006, and addresses federal and state mandated reductions in sewage overflows to basements and streets within the district, and to the Connecticut River.
Tim Dupuis- “In 2012 we still have overflows just about every time it rains. Anything over a quarter inch, that sewage combines with storm water, the pipes aren’t big enough and it comes out into overflows... It adds up to about a billion gallons a year."
That’s Tim Dupuis, the program manager for the Clean Water Project, speaking at a recent community awareness meeting held at the Hartford Public Library. The project’s first phase is now 80% complete, and while the work is on schedule, the logistics of working with underground systems and coordinating jobs among multiple utilities make progress slow. Work has been ongoing in the Upper Albany section since 2007, and is expected to continue to 2014.
Dupuis- “Most of the work is actually on side streets, but ultimately we need to make connections in the main street or Albany Ave… When we do that it’s generally a pretty large size pit that’s there for a while and it certainly disrupts traffic. And in general it’s construction activity so there’s always some inconvenience. But we’re trying to do a good job of minimizing that as best we can.”
Minimizing the inconvenience is a challenge, as affected residents, business owners, and commuters all have different needs. It’s been a learning process for the MDC, whose Assistant District Counsel Chris Stone says that early in the Albany Avenue work,
Stone- “We really didn’t have a handle on providing alternatives to either the contractor or neighbors, both business and residents, for parking and site storage, equipment storage, material storage.”
The MDC bought a nearby lot for contractor use, leased two more on Albany for local business parking, and now place signs around work zones to inform drivers and pedestrians that businesses are open during construction. They created a website showing current roadwork and detours, and coordinate closures program-wide to lessen impact. Stone says they’ve also started to reach out and update the community more proactively, whether on the street, or through meetings like the one at the library. Despite these efforts, some businesses have been severely impacted.
Monica Ross of Uniforms And Stuff reports that on days they could have expected to make three to five hundred dollars in the past, they are now lucky to make $100.
While Gordon Scott sees that the new traffic website serves some stakeholders, he believes it could actually make matters worse for affected businesses.
Scott- “So they’re doing this website for the folks that live outside, or who may be affected by the traffic. To try to make the citizenry comfortable by giving them information as to where to avoid! Whereas our problem is we don’t want people to avoid the Avenue. We want people to be able to flow freely in order to get our business.”
Scott wants people to know that he understands and fully supports the mission of the Clean Water Project, but feels the local businesses haven’t been given strong enough consideration in planning stages. Both his North Main Bakery and the Ross’ uniform store have struggled to cover their property taxes during the construction periods.
Chris Stone says that due to constraints of the grants and bonds through which the Clean Water Project is funded, the MDC is unable to actually compensate business owners for their losses. He believes that up to this point the MDC has done what it can in terms of attempting to mitigate potential harm to small businesses, but
Stone- “that doesn’t mean new suggestions can’t come about which may broaden what we can do, and we would certainly be willing to listen to those and move forward.”
If any residents or business owners feel their concerns have not been heard, or that the MDC has not been receptive enough to ideas or constructive criticism, it wants to hear from them.