Construction costs community

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Time is money. For business owners in Whitewater, the extension of the East Milwaukee Street project was a tiresome affair.

“For big projects like this I understand things happen, but it’s still frustrating,” Jene Mills said.

Mills, owner of Mills Automotive, has been located on East Milwaukee Street since 2000, and she says her business dipped almost 30 percent over the summer, as a result of the construction.

“Things got bogged down and it seemed like an awful long time to have such a small piece of road closed,” Mills said.

Unforeseen delays added nearly two months to the project’s timetable, and construction went from late April to early November.

Public Works Director Dean Fischer said the goal of the public works project was to replace utilities along East Milwaukee Street, which were not replaced the last time the road was overhauled in 1967.

Other streets in Whitewater were shut down and repaired, but Fischer said the sewer systems being replaced for those were roughly six to seven feet deep. He said the sewers along East Milwaukee Street were almost 25 feet below the surface.

Fischer said this was one of the most difficult projects of his career, but by digging the sewers several feet deeper, the city can remove two lift stations.

Lift stations pump sewage along pipes and help carry it to the tops of hills so that it can flow down the other side.

Fischer said it costs between $250,000 and $500,000 to purchase and install a single lift station, and that estimate does not include maintenance expenses.

“From day one we knew this was going to be a difficult process,” Fischer said. “Whenever you go underground there will be unknowns, and everyone is glad it’s completed.”

Mills says she knew about the construction far enough in advance that she was able to save money to pay her bills, but that other businesses, which rely on traffic, struggled the most.

She said business tends to slow each summer with the departure of students and faculty, but tourism was also down because of the construction.

Kate Dodge graphic.

Mike Frawley, owner of The Eastsider Citgo gas station, said his business declined by almost 22 percent over the summer.

“People still had access to our convenience store, but they tend to avoid construction areas,” Frawley said. “The city did the best they could with the detour routes, but some of those roads weren’t meant to handle that much traffic.”

Frawley said one area that frequently backed up was the intersection of East Main and Newcomb.

In preparation for the project, Frawley said he tried to be more frugal to save up for operating costs.

“There are a certain amount of fixed costs you can’t eliminate, and you have to just hope things get done on schedule,” Frawley said. “I think the initial completion date was too aggressive, but all you can is try to weather the storm as best you can.”

Rick Hartmann, owner of Rick’s Eastside Pub & Grill and Acorn Beverage, said his businesses took a small hit during the construction as well.

He said the lack of passerby traffic contributed, but he still had a steady stream of customers throughout the project.

“This definitely hurt sales, but not as bad as I thought it would,” Hartmann said. “We were actually lucky because we have an alley behind us for access and people came through the whole thing.”

Hartmann said he also took an active approach and informed his customers how to get to his businesses, and even handed out maps.

“We had communication with the city and they let me put up signs,” Hartmann said. “This project had to get completed, and I’m just glad it’s done.”

Fischer said the city went to great lengths to provide the business owners with information, and signage to inform people which roads were open.

“The businesses’ livelihood is just as important to the city as it is to the owners, and we are well aware of the hardships they faced,” Fischer said. “We did more signage for this project than any other, and did our best to limit the disruption.”

The work on East Milwaukee Street is officially completed, but Fischer said things won’t get any easier in the coming years as other projects are planned, which will close major roads.

The Downtown Eastgate project in 2014 will continue west of where the East Milwaukee Street project left off.

Fischer said that will be just as difficult as this year because it means, “blocking off an important artery for the city.”

The second phase of the Milwaukee Street reconstruction in 2017 will run from Newcomb Street out to the roundabout.

There is also a pair of projects planned for Clay Street, which will be completed in years opposite of the East Milwaukee Street projects, planned for 2015 and 2016.