Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A lack of communication and a newly installed concrete divide almost caused a delay in the road construction on 15th Street East, which is scheduled to be done in weeks.
Multiple councillors said during the City’s regular meeting on May 16 that they were willing to put the portion of the project affecting the area on hold in order to ensure better access for businesses between Fourth and Fifth Ave.
Several councillors, starting with Blake Edwards, then Zurakowski and on to Tony Head all said that something needed to change to accommodate the businesses.
“I invite you to show up with me after dark with your sledgehammer and knock it out,” said Councillor Ted Zurakowski after stating his opposition to the project in its current form.
At issue is a new meridian that stops traffic from turning both ways and into businesses such as Dr. Java’s, limiting vehicle access to one side of the street only.
Brandy and Chad Mogg, owners of Dr. Java’s Coffee House, were at the council meeting on Monday. They said that it was not made clear to them that the new construction would limit access to their business and eight others in the vicinity
“Obviously construction has impacted us, which we expected and have more than willingly accepted because the goal is to have better traffic flow, which we also believe will increase the access to our customers to get in and out safely,” Brandy said. “Coming to work on Thursday (Aug. 12) and seeing one single meridian and having no openings from Fifth all the way to Fourth Street, … we immediately called in to question the City (about) what was going on and why there was no access points to any of us. We were informed that this was a permanent change. We went straight to all of the councillors.”
She said that the package dropped off by City staff did not make clear that a cement meridian would stop traffic from turning from both directions.
Wes Hicks, director of public works, said that having an access point there is dangerous as there is not enough distance to accommodate accelerating lane traffic as well as providing a protected turning lane for the newly built Peavy Mart and that is why the initial decision was made to eliminate it.
He cautioned council that stopping the project even for two weeks could lead to much longer delays as the construction season nears an end.
“If there is any kind of real delay, we could lose our season and not be able to complete the project,” he said, and Peavy Mart was promised it would be done by the end of August.
A position of safety first was taken by Mayor Greg Dionne—one he would not budge from.
That street sees just under 30,000 vehicle movements daily and the volume of traffic increasing the chances of a collision.
“If we cut a hole in that curb and somebody goes across there to get a cup of coffee and somebody gets killed or maimed, I wouldn’t be able to sleep with myself,” Dionne said.
He acknowledged that the City failed in the communication it sent out to the impacted businesses.
“There was a lack of communication. That part I acknowledge,” he said.
Dionne was the sole vote against the motion to have staff prepare a report to “ensure improved proper access is provided for the affected businesses on the south side of 15th Street East from both east bound and west bound traffic”.
For others, however, it was a matter of giving one business an advantage that also removed advantage for previous businesses.
“We made a mistake and we need to fix this,” said Councillor Dennis Ogrodnick. “We did something great for Peavy Mart at the cost of businesses on the south side.”
For the Moggs, they took heart from the comments of the councillor support they got and the motion that directed staff to find a way to resolve the problem.