Erie Boulevard business owners are looking forward to the winter — because it will give them a break from the construction zone outside their windows.
Business owners say they’re enthusiastic about the redesigned boulevard, and that communication has been unusually good. They can follow every facet of the project through the FixErieNow.com website.
But nothing can make them enjoy the daily gridlock outside their doors.
At Wolberg Lighting Design & Electrical Supply, customers have been hit by passing cars as they try to pull out of the store’s parking lot.
An employee’s car was recently totaled, too.
At least the company has parking. Other stores that relied on street parking now say customers can’t reach them, because the parking has been turned into a driving lane.
The boulevard is unusually wide, so wide that contractors were able to dig up two driving lanes while opening up two other lanes in what had been the parking zone.
But that eliminated parking along the block this year. The project is scheduled to be complete by this time next year.
Sunoco has suffered particularly this year, because it is one of the few businesses on the side of the street that contractors ripped up. Construction workers made sure there was always a way through the cones to the gas station — sometimes on gravel, sometimes on pavement — but it was hard to see and sometimes difficult to navigate, particularly at night.
Business dropped so much that clerks had their hours cut dramatically. They don’t expect to see their paychecks improve until the entire street is done.
On the other side of the street, Wolberg branch manager Paul Wehren said he hasn’t seen a decrease in customers. The branch is a destination store, and by the time customers get there, they’re unlikely to be deterred by construction, he said.
“People plan to see us,” he added. “We have our own parking lot, so that isn’t too difficult. It’s more getting out of our parking lot that’s the problem.”
Accidents have occurred when drivers try to cross the oncoming traffic lane to get into the lane going in the opposite direction.
The oncoming lane is often slowed by congestion, so drivers aren’t ready for the speed of the opposite lane.
“It’ll back right up by our building,” Wehren said. “You’ll pull out and the fast lane will come by and whack!”
But despite the growing pains, Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said it would be worth it in the end.
“It’s pivotal to the future of downtown,” he said, noting that the boulevard has few businesses on it now.
“There is a tremendous amount of interest in investing along the corridor now that businesses see the work is under way,” Gillen added. “You cannot have a thriving Schenectady and leave Erie the way it was.”