The intersection of Union and Dean streets along one of Schenectady’s most successful business corridors once featured an attractive circle design stamped into the asphalt to make it look like brick.
It was nearly five years ago that the intersection was improved as part of an ambitious $4 million project to beautify the Upper Union Street corridor with new curb cuts, sidewalks, streets, light fixtures and trees.
Today, most of that work remains intact and the business district is thriving. But the intersection in front of McDonald’s started crumbling just a few years after it was installed, and the problem repeated itself in a few areas up the street toward the Niskayuna town line, intensifying with each season’s chill and thaw so that the faux-brick began buckling and potholes began to form.
“Oh, it’s a mess,” said Nell Burrows, executive director of the Upper Union Street Business Improvement District. “There are potholes and bricks missing. Everybody hates it. Everybody complains about it — the merchants, the customers, the visitors passing through.”
The BID formed in 2001 and worked with the city and the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority to make over the busy Schenectady-Niskayuna corridor from 2009 to 2011. On Wednesday, the Metroplex board approved $65,000 to pay for improvements to these crumbling intersections and protect a major investment from further disrepair.
The problem seems to have stemmed from a flawed procedure used during the first and second phase of the beautification project.
“It’s amazing it fell apart so soon,” said Neil Golub during a Metroplex board meeting Wednesday night.
Callanan Industries, of Schenectady oversaw the project, but brought in a third-party vendor to pour an asphalt-thermoplastic crosswalk that allowed water to seep into cracks between the thermoplastic and granite curb cuts. With the changing of the seasons, the water freezes and thaws and causes the thermoplastic to pop up and crumble, explained City Engineer Christopher Wallin. The vendor is no longer in business, he added.
In general, Upper Union Street is one of the most pedestrian-friendly areas in the county. But BID chairwoman Marie DeBrocky expressed concern that the Dean Street intersection in particular is just not safe for pedestrians.
“It’s highly trafficked by children because it’s got McDonald’s right there,” she said. “We want it to be safe. I think the city and Metroplex are doing this the right way, though. They’re not rushing through it. They have patched over holes so they’re no longer a danger. And now they’re taking a step-by-step approach to redo the intersection the right way rather than having to fix it again in a couple years.”
The plan now is to use a procedure that is known to be more durable. It’s been deemed a success at several Schenectady intersections, including the crosswalk behind Proctors that connects the Metroplex parking garage with Stratton Plaza.
“The old procedure, you had to mill out three-quarters of an inch of road, fill a 5-gallon metal bucket with asphalt and pour it into the hole, smooth it and stamp it to look like brick,” said Wallin. “The new procedure uses thermoplastic, too, but you don’t mill anything out. You use a large propane heater that moves over and melts the thermoplastic into the asphalt and when it gets hot enough that the asphalt and thermoplastic start bonding, you come in and stamp it.”
The process allows for an integrated surface, without cracks that water can seep through.
Metroplex board members questioned Wednesday night why they couldn’t get the original vendor to redo the flawed work, but Executive Director Jayme Lahut said a warranty usually only lasts a year. The flawed work became noticeable only a few years ago.
“We’ve done a lot of investment on Upper Union Street and it’s a small price to pay to protect and preserve that investment,” said Chairman Ray Gillen. “It’s a thriving entryway into downtown. The appearance and prosperity of that business corridor has really helped that whole neighborhood. It’s a very heavily trafficked area. We’d rather spend a little bit of money now to repair it than a lot down the road.”
The project will go out to bid. Gillen said he expects Metroplex’s input of $65,000 to cover the project, but said the city has indicated a willingness to help out if it exceeds that figure.
Chris DiCocco, who chaired the Business Improvement District during the beautification project, said he is glad to see Metroplex pitching in to protect the investment that was poured into the corridor.
“Sometimes you’ve got to eat the cost and do the work,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of life. I’m excited to see it get redone so it’s better and more longstanding so we never have to discuss Upper Union Street road work for another 40, 50, 60 years. With the exception of a few small blemishes, the project overall was such a success for Upper Union Street.”
Metroplex also approved $185,000 Wednesday night for streetscape improvements by the Schenectady County Public Library main branch at the corner of Liberty and Clinton streets. The area hasn’t been improved since the main branch was built in the late 1960s. It will receive new landscaping, tree planters, sidewalks and pedestrian areas.
“If you go by there today, the planters are all broken up and it’s just a mess,” said Gillen. “The whole area just doesn’t have the appearance it should have with that beautiful new addition to the library.”