South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Road closure having detrimental affect on businesses

Customer access, ability to park cited as reasons


Brian O'Toole watches a backhoe work on Brownsville Road. Since mid-March only construction vehicles have been permitted in the 100 and 200 blocks, causing a dramatic drop in business for merchants. Mr. O'Toole will be closing at least one of his businesses because of lack of sales during the construction.

The cost of the gas and water line replacement along Brownsville Road in Mt. Oliver and Knoxville could be much higher than the $2.6 million estimated for the construction work.

Merchants in the 100 and 200 blocks of Brownsville Road are concerned with the street closure and the detrimental affect it has had on their businesses. Some businesses contacted said they were down 60 percent, while others declined to talk about sales saying they "didn't even want to know" how far down they were since construction started in mid-March.

Others like Brian O'Toole, from Brian's Used Furniture, said his sales for March, after construction started were $250 and he hadn't had a sale yet in April.

"Look at the street, it's empty," Mr. O'Toole said from another of his businesses, Brian's Antiques & More.

Acknowledging the line replacement was necessary, he was still frustrated with the unintended consequences. He hasn't been able to keep up with the dust and dirt coming into the stores from the construction.

"Look at this, I just cleaned this yesterday," he said of the layer of dirt covering a table displaying figurines.

Citing the road closure and not only the inability for his customers to get to his stores, but also his inability to park close enough to load purchases for delivery, as reasons for his decision to close the store. He said the added cost of having to pay delivery people to carry the furniture blocks away to the delivery truck was a consideration.

Mr. O'Toole criticized Mt. Oliver Borough officials for not holding the construction companies to promises that he said were made at meeting of business owners in November prior to the road closure. Among the promises he named were workers working longer hours and Saturdays and access to the street for deliveries.

He felt one way the borough could have helped businesses would have been to waive the Business Privilege Tax and Business Registration Fee because of the loss of sales during construction.

The length of the closure was another point of contention. Originally scheduled for the first of the year, work began several weeks later and the full closure not until March 14. Although only scheduled for a two-month closure, Mr. O'Toole was concerned delays could extend the project much longer.

Further down the street another long-time business owner who asked to not be identified, complained if the work continued much longer, some of the businesses on the street would have to close.

He was also concerned the utility companies weren't following through with some of the things they said they could do to help mitigate the disturbance to businesses. He cited access to the street and a promise to put signs with the businesses names at both ends of the street and say they were open during construction.

The business owner felt work on the street could have been divided up into blocks instead of closing down the full 100 and 200 blocks at the same time. He would have also liked to have seen the road opened to parking during times when there wasn't construction going on, evenings and weekends.

Steve Miller at Miller Hardware didn't remember it being as disruptive back in 1994, the last time Brownsville Road underwent a complete reconstruction. Although he recalled they were able to keep one lane of traffic open at all times.

He said where the two road closures compared was in the two-month loss of business. While the construction has been going on, he has been trying to accommodate his customers as much as possible and said he is fortunate there is parking nearby.

Construction contractors have been helpful and have allowed delivery drivers access to the closed road Mr. Miller said. One time, they even stopped working, put a steel plate over the hole they were working in and permitted a delivery driver to park at the store.

"CCSI has been fantastic, everything they said they would do, they did," he said. Although, he confirmed a utility or contracting representative did say there would be signs at the closures stating the businesses would be open.

He said the one thing that could have been improved, was better communication between the utilities, the contractors and the business owners.

"When this is all said and done in six months or so, there will be something else that's a challenge," Mr. Miller said adding he has to take the work in stride because it needed to be done.

Jami Gregg, commercial district manager for Economic Development South, said she is trying to work with the businesses and when the work is finished, the merchants will have a new street and new sidewalks.

"There's never a good time (to close a road)," she said. "But, it's going to set up our business district for growth."

Ms. Gregg said they have been trying to do some advertising for the businesses and would provide information and a map on their Facebook page,, about where parking was available during the closure.

Ricky Hopkinson, Mt. Oliver Borough manager, said he "totally understands the frustration" business owners are experiencing but "the utility work had to happen."

"I understand they're taking a hit right now," he added.

Mr. Hopkinson said the borough has articulated a May 1 deadline to the utility companies to have the street open and expects the deadline will be met. As far as opening the street when the contractors aren't working, he said that wasn't possible because of liability issues.

He said they have been trying to work with the merchants and currently hold quarterly meetings for the business owners.

The line replacement work will continue up Brownsville Road to Suncrest Street. However, from Bausman Street on the road will remain open during the work. After replacing the pipe, Brownsville Road will be repaved – curb to curb. The entire project is expected to take nine months.


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