If you spot jackhammers and power washers on Erie Boulevard this week, then know this: The end is near.
The $14 million project to rebuild Erie Boulevard from I-890 to Union Street has been a daily headache for commuters along the Schenectady thoroughfare since the summer of 2012. But finally, the end result is here and it includes new underground utilities, fresh pavement, sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, redesigned intersections, parking lanes, lamp posts, an attractive median and fresh landscaping.
There are a few last-minute improvements scheduled for this week, and they involve tearing up the brand new red-brick stamped sidewalk at two spots along the boulevard. Not to worry, says City Engineer Chris Wallin. The work won’t cost taxpayers extra.
“This is part of our punch list, which is part of doing business,” he said. “It’s been part of the project all along.”
In the construction industry, punch-list items typically include problems with a final project that need to be fixed before final payment is rendered. Wallin describes them as the quality assurance/quality control portion of the project.
On Monday morning, Rifenburg Construction workers tore into a section of the new sidewalk by Wendy’s.
Large trucks getting off 890 have been taking wide right turns into the fast-food restaurant’s driveway, and are driving over part of the new sidewalk in the process. The driveway — 6 inches of concrete supported by steel mesh reinforcement — is designed to handle such weight. The sidewalk — 4 inches of concrete without reinforcement — is not.
Cracks and crumbles in the sidewalk were recently discovered during a final walk-through of the project, Wallin said. As a result, Rifenburg will redo the small section of sidewalk to include 6 inches of concrete and steel mesh reinforcement.
“The driveway is plenty wide,” he said. “It’s just these trucks being overly cautious when they take their right turns. To the visual eye, this will look no different when done. It will just be thicker and reinforced, able to withstand more of the heavy loads.”
One other section of sidewalk needs to be torn up and redone — a 2.5-by-8-foot stretch at the intersection of Erie and State that appears uneven. Work started Monday on this.
“The stamp pattern was done unevenly,” Wallin said. “We’re not quite sure why. We think the concrete was a little wet. When it gets wet, it can set a little wavy.”
Passers-by might also spot power washers out and about this week. Dust from the ongoing construction will be washed away from the sidewalks and pavers.
The only remaining work after that includes replanting of several trees that were sheared or struck by plows over the winter. This will be done in late fall, an ideal time for planting trees in the Northeast.
“A couple are broken and dying, and in some places it’s obvious it was the plows,” Wallin said. “We’re hoping it’s nothing to do with the salt or winter conditions.”
State and federal funds are covering 95 percent of the massive reconstruction project. The rest will be covered by the city.
The thoroughfare was originally part of the Erie Canal, but was filled in during the 1920s to become the wide road we know today. Its reconstruction was slated to wrap up last fall, but unforeseen utility conflicts underground caused a few delays. Lane closures caused traffic to come to a near-standstill during rush hour the past few summers, and some businesses along the corridor complained of declining patronage.
As the work died down earlier this summer, Erie Boulevard property owners reported an uptick in foot traffic. Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority officials believe property owners are now seeking to spruce up their own sites to match the attractive look of the revived corridor. Examples include planned facade improvements at the Lyle’s Hoagies building and an ambitious redevelopment plan for the warehouse out back, as well as a second Wolff’s Biergarten in the Capital Region planned for 165 Erie Blvd.
Local officials now hope to compete for more state and federal funds to continue the reconstruction work past Union Street on up to Nott Street, where a roundabout is being planned.