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Erie Boulevard overhaul tests neighbors' patience

Erie Boulevard overhaul tests neighbors' patience

Morrette’s owner: 'It’s crushing us, it’s absolutely crushing us'
Erie Boulevard overhaul tests neighbors' patience
Work continues Thursday on Erie Boulevard in Schenectady between Union and Nott streets.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

The old saying about having to break a few eggs to make an omelette is proving true on Erie Boulevard, and some of the businesspeople there are growing impatient for their omelette.

The massive overhaul of the stretch between Union and Nott streets has left the roadway a moonscape of potholes, trenches, barricades and backhoes, but holds the promise of a smoothed and beautified roadway leading to the newest neighborhood in Schenectady, Mohawk Harbor.

Saturday will actually be a major turning point in the process, as a smooth but temporary coat of asphalt is laid down from curb to curb.

One or more lanes will be closed for the next three months, until the projected Nov. 15 completion date. But starting Saturday, the lanes that are open will be much smoother-riding, thanks to a temporary layer of asphalt installed to allow for frequently changing traffic patterns.

Business owners along the work zone say they have seen their customer traffic and revenue decline during the work period.

“It’s crushing us, it’s absolutely crushing us,” said Frank Martin, owner of Morrette’s King Steak House. “When you're starving, you’re not even thinking about the omelette. That’s where they’ve got us at.”

The landmark steak sandwich shop is in a particularly tough bind, as construction workers are taking much of the nearby street parking with their personal vehicles as they block traffic on Erie Boulevard outside the restaurant with their construction vehicles. Also, they’ve torn out his sidewalk.

Martin is eager for the work to be done and complete, and take his place on a beautified Erie Boulevard. But he’s skeptical about the Nov. 15 completion date.

“Never in my 35 years of listening to predictions of municipal work has it ever come close” to meeting the deadline, he said.

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Schenectady City Engineer Chris Wallin said the work is on schedule despite a lot of rainy days. He said barring an autumn cold snap, it should all be done by Nov. 15. Cold temperatures would prevent the final paving from being completed.

Konstantine Gerrity, owner of Steadfast Auto Sales, near the railroad overpass, said he’s looking forward to the finished product, with new landscaping, paving, striping, sidewalks, lighting, medians and crosswalks.

But he’s feeling the pinch now.

“It’s hard to gauge it, but definitely fewer people are coming in,” he said.

Steadfast sees two types of customers: Those that need a car and will brave the construction zone to come in and get one, and those passing by who see something they might like and stop. That second category is the one that has disappeared.

“In today’s age it’s all about convenience,” Gerrity said.

Three more months of work doesn’t seem untenable, he said.

“I think I can hold on.”

Gerrity also thinks he’ll like the finished product.

“The sidewalks are going to look good, the light poles,” he said.

Stewart's Shops spokeswoman Maria D'Amelia said it's hard to gauge the financial impact on the Erie Boulevard location, because it was remodeled two years ago and the revenue numbers have been changing as a result. 

But there are definitely fewer customers coming in. Just as many neighborhood residents are walking in but fewer motorists are stopping by. "The last six weeks, especially the last three to four weeks, we've been feeling it," she said. "It's one of those things you have to ride out."

One of the most heavily affected businesses has been Country Farms, the gas station/convenience store at the corner of Green Street.

“For us, we are losing 50 percent business now,” owner Harry Patel said. “At the moment I think people are avoiding Erie Boulevard.”

Patel owns the property. If he were leasing it, he said, he could not cover the rental payments from his revenue.

But his is one of only two gas stations on Erie Boulevard, and the only one on the northbound side. He’s looking forward to the work being done, and having a prominent position on a nicer thoroughfare.

“I am seeing it’s going to be a lot better for all the businesses,” Patel said. “At the end of the tunnel we will do better, a lot better, I think.”

Patel apparently is not exaggerating about the vehicle traffic on Erie Boulevard.

Some sort of tipping point was reached this week, Wallin said, a sudden and almost startlingly large decrease in the amount of weekday traffic. Whether it was last week’s public service announcements, the placement of flashing message boards urging drivers to take another route, or something else, when the sun rose Monday morning, a lot fewer people were driving down that stretch of Erie Boulevard.

That’s held through the week — as much as a 50 percent reduction in traffic.

This is better not only for motorists frustrated by a few minutes stuck in traffic but the construction workers who have to do their job all day with 2-ton metal boxes whizzing past them, Wallin added.

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The timeline

Erie Boulevard has been overhauled in stages from Interstate 890 to  State Street; State Street to Union Street; and Nott Street to Freemans Bridge. The final phase, between Nott and Union streets, is being rebuilt now at a cost expected to total $6 million to $7 million. Schenectady City Engineer Chris Wallin explained the timeline:

  • First excavation begun in spring 2017.
  • Replacement of aged, leak-prone water mains completed last week.
  • Assessment of sewer lines and replacement of about 100 feet of damaged pipe completed last week.
  • Placement of shim coating, a 1-inch thick temporary layer of asphalt, starts Saturday. The Erie Boulevard work zone will be smooth and black and appear to be finished, but it will be far from done.
  • Starting next week, northbound traffic will be pushed away from the east curb with cones and barrels; all above-ground features, including sidewalks, curbs and light pole bases, will be replaced over the course of two to three weeks.
  • Then the opposite happens: Southbound traffic will be pushed away from the west curb and the above-ground features will be replaced on the west side.
  • Then northbound and southbound traffic will be pushed away from the middle of the boulevard, and the raised median near the Nott Street roundabout will be extended south and a new crosswalk added.
  • Then traffic signals at Green Street will be replaced.
  • Then the shim coating and the 2 inches of pavement below it will be stripped away from the entire length of the work zone, and the final 2 inches of new asphalt will be applied. This is scheduled to be complete Nov. 15. 
  • A cold snap could push the completion date back, because it will be impossible to do the repaving in cold temperatures. On the plus side, the contractor on the project, Callanan Industries, has its own asphalt plant, and can keep it running later in the season if needed. 
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