WILKES-BARRE — A road project that was expected to take six weeks to complete entered its eighth week Monday with no end in sight, leaving business owners and residents upset.
North River Street between Maple Street and Courtright Avenue has been closed since mid-August for a sewer replacement project by the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority.
The authority is installing a new 30-inch diameter wastewater interceptor line beneath the street. The section of North River where the work is being done has been closed to thru-traffic, and a detour approved by PennDOT takes drivers around the area. One-way streets have been opened to two-way traffic to allow for better access.
Butch Frati, director of operations for Wilkes-Barre City, said a meeting is scheduled for Tuesday with WVSA at City Hall at 10 a.m.
“We have received numerous complaints from city residents for weeks now,” Frati said. “Taxpayers of the city and people who use and rely on that road are concerned and we share their concerns. We haven’t been able to get to the bottom of what the problem is with that project. We hope to get those answers Tuesday.”
WVSA Executive Director James Tomaine said the original plan was for the project to take six to eight weeks to complete. He said some weather issues have caused delays, but the major reason is due to difficulty in pulling the new pipe through the existing lines and dealing with abandoned utility lines that remain in the ground.
“We have begun to restore the upper section of the project and we hope to begin restoring the lower section, near Courtright Street, this week,” Tomaine said. “We’ve had some unforeseen issues underground, but I feel comfortable that the street will be fully restored by the end of October. We hope to have it done within a couple of weeks.”
Tomaine said the project cost is “a little over $1 million,” and he said crews have worked extended hours when they can. He said because of the sensitivity of disturbing underground lines, working at night was not possible due to safety concerns.
Tomaine said Doli Construction Co. of Schuylkill County is doing the work with T&T as a sub-contractor. Quad Three Group was the design engineer, Tomaine said.
“We are doing everything we can to get this project done,” he noted.
‘Killing our weekends’
Wilkes-Barre General Hospital sits at the end of the project, leaving the only access to it via southbound traffic on River Street. Renita Fennick, hospital spokesperson, said no patients have had to cancel appointments or procedures because of the road closure and detours.
“All emergency vehicles have been finding their way to our trauma center and emergency department,” Fennick said. “Before the construction project began, we advised our employees to seek alternate routes to the hospital and to allow more time for their daily commute. Our physician offices and our telephone operators have been providing patients and callers with alternate routes from key locations.”
Fennick said physician offices have been distributing directions on alternate routes to patients who are being scheduled for procedures and lab work at the hospital.
Gabriel Scotto, a co-owner of Antonio’s Pizza at 405 N. River St., said the family business has been at that location since 1981.
“We’re losing business,” Scotto said. “At least if they would open Courtright Street, it wouldn’t be so bad.”
Scotto said weather has not been an issue. He said he can recall only two days that were cut short by rain.
“This is a busy road,” Scotto said of River Street. “They should have been working around the clock to get this done. It doesn’t look like it will be done right away.”
Scotto said customers picking up orders tell him they would’ve never called if they knew how difficult it was going to be to get to the restaurant.
“We’ve never had any problems here,” Scotto said. “We just want the project done as soon as possible.”
Another business suffering is Pat Patte’s Sports Bar on Hollenback Avenue.
“Our business is down significantly,” Patte said. “We have no real lunch business since this project started. And it’s killing our weekends. It’s so hard to get here, people don’t like driving through this. At this point, all we can do is sit and wait.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.