Greg and Ellen Williams moved their Studio 309 Music store to Shavertown in March, hoping the more accessible location would boost traffic. A little over a month later, the barriers went up and customer visits died down as work began on a long-delayed project to replace the Center Street bridge.
"It's literally killed us," Ellen Williams told me in her shop filled with guitars, other music equipment and antiques.
Four months later she's hearing the estimated October completion date has been pushed back, perhaps to next spring.
In Kingston, Ken Bond accepts that the Veterans Memorial Bridge between Pierce Street and North Street in Wilkes-Barre needed repairs. But the owner of Pierce Street Deli didn't understand why it was supposed to take two years to finish the work, as I told him.
It turned out I was wrong; completion isn't slated until 2014, PennDOT construction manager Jeff Novitski told me.
Given that the Empire State Building was constructed in less than two years, on time and under budget, it's hard to understand how repairs to a bridge can stretch on for years. Or more correctly, after seeing the skeleton crews at work, to understand why scheduling appears so loose, given the disruption the work causes to nearby businesses and residents.
I'm all for infrastructure work, and not as a temporary job creation program. Beat up roads and bridges and rickety rail lines exact a daily cost on businesses and individuals in the form of slower commutes, delivery delays and damage to vehicles and equipment. I recently read that the new Dodge Dart compact car is based on an Italian Alfa Romeo substructure that had to be beefed up for American roads.
Perhaps these drawn-out schedules save PennDOT money — Novitski said they probably are cheaper than working double shifts — but they cost businesses dearly and may even inflict mortal wounds. Ellen Williams said the only way Studio 309 survives is by selling on eBay and at the Garden Drive-In flea market, neither of which requires a storefront and certainly not one customers are challenged to get to.
Some people say burdensome regulations slow things down, and I guess there's some truth in that. I ran into a couple of guys from United Water at the Shavertown site and they'd heard DEP was holding up the project for some unknown reason. But DEP spokeswoman Colleen Connelly said it's just the opposite; the department has been waiting for several weeks for PennDOT to provide basic data about a proposed culvert.
Novitski said it's more complicated; once contractors started digging it became apparent a different approach was needed. "They're working slow because they don't have the approved design yet," Novitski said. "Any change to the construction and we have to revise our permits."
I don't think it's wise to abandon environmental standards for expediency; instead it seems like better planning and coordination is needed. Or perhaps we're seeing the end result of state government budget restrictions that put short-term savings ahead of long-lasting improvements.
That esoteric argument doesn't address the effect on businesses, particularly small, single site ones like Studio 309 Music and Pierce Street Deli, where work shifts have been shortened to account for a slowdown in business.
"We're feeling it and you can see it," Bond said, before only half-jokingly saying he'd be willing to pick up a hammer and help out if it would get the job done faster.
Ron Bartizek, Times Leader business editor, may be reached at [email protected] or 970-7157.