Work in progress

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 11, 2005

East Washington project causing some concern, but hailed as much-needed renaissance

By Allison T. Williams

Barbara Boone-Stephenson is used to a straight shot to get from her Lake Kennedy home to downtown Suffolk.

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But these days, her regular route along East Washington Street is riddled with road construction, detours and slow-moving traffic.

&uot;Everywhere you turn, there is come sort of road construction project down here,&uot; said Boone-Stephenson. The detours and delays have made her late for more than one doctor’s appointment in recent weeks, she added.

&uot;It’s frustrating…and it’s becoming a hazard,&uot; she said. &uot;Somebody is going to get hurt before it’s all over.&uot;

The East Washington Street Improvements Project, which got underway in April, is the first step in the city’s $10 million Fairgrounds urban redevelopment project. The project calls for building about 150 new homes and enhancing the East Washington Street business district over the next five years.

Over the next seven months, contractors will be moving utilities underground along East Washington, between Hall Avenue and Liberty Street. They will also be replacing aging water and sewer mains and making additional streetscape improvements, including a new sidewalk, curbing, landscaping and decorative street lighting.

The project is on budget and on schedule for its targeted January 2006 completion date, said Eric T. Nielsen Jr., the city’s public works director.

But as nice as the long-awaited facelift will be, the project is inconvenient to passersby and businesses along the heavily-traveled corridor.

The eastbound lane of East Washington is closed during the day; at night, contractors sometime close both lanes of traffic, sending motorists on detours that wrap around several city blocks.

Contractors have taken over part of a back parking lot behind the Horseshoe Caf\u00E9, which sometimes leaves customers of nearby businesses a little cramped for parking space.

&uot;There’s really no place out there to park any more,&uot; said Michael Wells, a 16-year employee of Weaver’s Beauty and Barber Shop at 364 E. Washington St. &uot;I’m really frustrated with the parking out there.&uot;

Not having an easily accessible front entrance makes it difficult for customers, particularly if they are from out of town and unfamiliar with the work, he added.

&uot;It is kind of slowing things down for us,&uot; Wells said.

But it’s business as usual at nearby Beamon’s Unisex Salon, said an employee. He asked that his name not be used.

&uot;It’s not really impacting business,&uot; he said. Although he’s heard a few complaints, most of his customers seem to be in favor of the project.

&uot;It is kind of an eyesore to see construction equipment outside the front window,&uot; he said. &uot;But I’ve seen the sketches. It’s going to look real good.&uot;

Indeed, the long-awaited project is going to change the face of East Washington Street, said Lula Holland, a member of the city’s Fairgrounds Advisory Commi-ttee.

&uot;I understand change can be uncomfortable,&uot; said Holland. &uot;But to get to the advantages in life, you always have to struggle through the disadvantages.

&uot;There is no such thing as status quo. If you are standing still, you are falling behind,&uot; she said. &uot;Change causes disruption.

&uot;But once it’s over, East Washington Street is going to be so much better than it has ever been before.&uot;

Her advice to citizens: &uot;Be patient!&uot;

Holland’s sentiments were echoes by Councilman Charles F. Brown, who said he occasionally fields calls from frustrated constituents.

&uot;Everybody on the east side of town wanted improvements,&uot; he said. &uot;Now the improvements are coming…and I’m asking citizens to work with us through the process.

&uot;It’s painful now but in another year or so, everyone will see a reward. East Washington Street is going to be reborn.&uot;