Businesses, senior center learn to cope with work
“The end is so close, yet so far way,” said Dennis Doas, owner of Michelle’s Diner, in reference to roadwork on E. Warrington Avenue, the street on which his business rests.
The roadwork Mr. Doas referenced is part of the $2.2 million joint project between Port Authority and the City of Pittsburgh to resurface the travel lanes on Warrington Avenue. Work on the project began last fall in front of the Warrington Recreation Center, and gradually moved up the street to repave it in segments.
Earlier this summer, the project progressed to its final phase—a 12-week construction effort in Allentown approaching all of Warrington Avenue from Beltzhoover to Arlington avenues in one sweep, originally allocating six weeks of work to each lane, beginning on the inbound, even-numbered side of the street.
But it has now been approximately six weeks since this final phase began, and roadwork has not yet shifted from one lane to the other, causing a buzz on the streets that’s not coming from the construction equipment.
The buzz on the streets is coming from business-owners, organizational leaders and citizens, who, like Mr. Doas, want to know what’s going on with the project and are eager to see it end.
“Has construction effected my business?,” Mr. Doas reiterated when asked. “Absolutely; but that’s to be expected with a project like this… We all want nicer, safer roads, and that doesn’t happen overnight.
“I accept that my business and customers will be temporarily inconvenienced so that something greater can happen in the long run,” he continued. “But things have still been hard on us, and I can’t wait ‘til it’s done.”
Mr. Doas said he was concerned when he heard rumors that the project completion date had been pushed back because of summer storms and other weather conditions. One of the more vocal business-owners along the Warrington Avenue corridor, he, as well as Jeff Decker from Decker’s Gulf Station, reached out to their local city councilman, Bruce Kraus, to find out if the rumors were true.
Along with representatives from Port Authority, Councilman Kraus visited the worksite last Thursday, to discuss with Mr. Doas and Mr. Decker, and other interested parties, their concerns over the roadwork and possible delays, and to offer viable solutions to the issues their businesses continue to face.
“Construction projects are always weather-effected,” Councilman Kraus stated, “and the rain has really reaped havoc on this particular project and pushed the completion date back a bit.
“But, Port Authority has come up with a way to mediate this problem… a solution to get the project back on track and get things done as quickly as possible.”
That solution, Mr. Kraus said, came in the form of a commitment from Port Authority to extend the construction team’s work week an extra day for the two weeks following the hilltop meeting last week, placing workers on the street the added days of Saturday, July 27, and Saturday, Aug. 3, weather permitting.
The District 3 councilman also said of his Thursday tour of the site, “The work is coming along very nicely, and, overall, people seem pleased with the progress… I applaud the area’s business-owners for their patience throughout the project, and for being able to look beyond their immediate concerns to see the big picture.
“Nobody wants a repeat of history here… Warrington Avenue has a history of being a problem for the community it was designed to serve. Because of the poor quality of materials used in its previous reconstruction, there have been problems with this road for 18 years.
“That said, everyone is being very cautious this time around, to ensure that absolutely no mistakes or oversights are made… This may mean the project takes a little longer than was originally intended, but, in the end, the result will be worth it—people will get an infrastructure that actually serves them, and businesses can return not just to business-as-usual but to something better.”
Mr. Doas hopes for such a return when the project shifts to the other lane. Located at 740 E. Warrington Avenue, Michelle’s Diner sits on the even-numbered side of street, the first side to undergo construction during this phase.
The biggest inconvenience on Mr. Doas’ patrons has been limited access to crosswalks, he said. “The only place you can cross is down by the Police Station, or at Millbridge,” he furthered. “That’s too far for some people to walk, and some of my regular customers aren’t even able to walk that far.”
Senior citizens make up a significant portion of Mr. Doas’ steady business, he noted, and some of them have physical impairments or medical conditions disallowing them the added hike to get to his diner.
Mr. Doas said he looks forward to the end of roadwork on his side of the street, and, while crosswalk issues are likely to persist even after the shift, he expects his business to pick up again once the sidewalks and side streets surrounding his storefront reopen.
Just as construction is soon to shift from one lane to the other, so too is concern. While some of the tension on Mr. Doas and his even-number neighbors will be alleviated soon, tension will then mount across the street, and the odd-numbered buildings will face their own set of accessibility issues.
And it’s not just businesses that have something at stake.
The Allentown Senior Citizen Center is at 631 E. Warrington Avenue, set back at a distance behind its much-needed, much-used parking lot. It hosts senior citizen activities, meals, and events from 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. every weekday, and frequently functions as a forum for community group meetings during the evenings.
Hugh Brannan, director of the center, said the center and its patrons will face unique access problems when roadwork moves to the outbound lane, as vehicles, not just pedestrians, will need regular access to the parking lot in order to deliver both visitors and food.
According to Mr. Brannan, many of the center’s visitors rely on ACCESS vans, or other convoy services, for transportation, and many are in wheelchairs or have physical conditions that require them to be dropped off at the door. Also, he said, delivery trucks need to use the lot to deliver the food the center serves.
Mr. Brannan said he met with Port Authority a few weeks ago to discuss ways to accommodate the center’s unique needs. In the end, he said, Port Authority stipulated, rather than using a standard-sized wooden bridge to access the lot, the construction team will set up a wider bridge that will be reinforced by metal plates.
“Port Authority has been very accommodating,” Mr. Brannan commented. “Now we just have to wait and see if what they’ve come up with will serve our needs.”
Mr. Brannan went on to clarify that, although access to the center is very important, it is not the most pressing of the center’s concerns for its patrons: “(The center’s) number one priority has always been, and will remain, the safety of those coming in and out of our building. So long as Port Authority does everything necessary to ensure that, we’ll continue to cooperate with them however we can.”
As confirmed by Heather Pharo, media contact for Port Authority, Port Authority expects the project to be completed by mid-September, two weeks later than originally intended.