Businesses on West Main Street say they have felt the pain of a sewer project this winter since fewer customers driving by meant lower revenue during the Christmas shopping season.
Although motorists have always had access to the shops between Sixth and 17th streets, they often were blocked from driving straight through and were directed to a detour route along South Belt West.
While the work is far from finished, West Main recently reopened — for a while.
Work on the sewer project recently stopped because of low temperatures and is expected to resume in March and be completed in May. The sewer work is part of an estimated $3.3 million “streetscape” plan to renovate West Main Street from Sixth to 17th streets with new pavement, sidewalks and light posts to match the ones installed downtown in recent years.
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The entire project is not scheduled to be finished until December 2020.
“Any type of construction like this at any location affects us negatively in the short run,” said Rob Forsyth, president of Moto Inc., which is based at 721 W. Main St. and has one of its Moto convenience stores next door.
“Hopefully the results will mean great things for Belleville and will help this part of town that frankly needs the help,” Forsyth said. “So we’re optimistic about the long-term benefits.
“If the better look entices new businesses to move into the area, that’s what we’re really looking forward to because we need it.”
Forsyth noted the businesses in this area also have had to deal with the closure of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in 2017 as well as the ongoing environmental clean-up site under the big white tent at Sixth and West Main streets.
Just like the Moto store, other shopkeepers contacted by the BND said their revenue took a hit while West Main Street was closed.
Tina Peterson, manager of Ace’s Golden Pawn, 1323 W. Main St., said the store saw a sharp drop-off in shoppers when West Main Street was blocked near the Moto store and a sign at 17th Street said “road closed.”
When Peterson heard the project is not expected to be finished until December 2020, she said, “That’s painful.”
Peterson said she was “glad to see it open at least for income tax time because I’m hoping that makes up the money that we’ve lost on Christmas.”
“They need to know the businesses are still trying to run.”
The M&L Mart, a convenience store at 1300 W. Main St., had business drop by 20 percent when Main Street was blocked, owner Milad Hamed said.
Hamed said the finished product on Main Street “will be beautiful.” But for now? “I’m waiting patiently until it’s done,” he said.
Mayor Mark Eckert said business owners can contact his office at 618-233-6810 if they have questions about the project.
“Any time you do construction there’s inconveniences, there’s dirt, there’s dust and it does affect business,” Eckert said. But he thinks the streetscape work “provides a lot of possibilities and opportunities.”
City Engineer Tim Gregowicz said the adjustments have been made to accommodate shop owners, residents and commuters.
In one case, “road closed” signs were moved down from 12th Street to 11th Street so motorists could take 11th Street to get back on the detour at South Belt West.
Also, the city has installed signs reminding motorists that all businesses are open during construction.
For commuters, here are the recommended detours around the West Main Street work:
▪ People driving east on West Main Street should turn right onto South 17th Street; then left onto South Belt West; then left onto Centreville Avenue; and then right onto West Monroe Street to get to downtown destinations.
▪ People driving west on West Main Street should turn left onto South Sixth Street; then left onto Washington Street; then right onto Centreville Avenue; then right onto South Belt West; and then right onto South 17th Street to West Main Street.
There are three phases for the West Main Street project. The current construction is the first phase, which began last fall.
In this phase, storm water sewers will be installed from Sixth Street to 12th Street so the storm water runoff will not be combined with sanitary sewer lines. This sewer separation work is expected be finished in May.
Initially, this work was scheduled to be done by Christmas but crews had to install the sewer pipes deeper than originally expected and that contributed to the delay Gregowicz said.
Gregowicz said the pipes near Richland Creek were installed at a depth of 18 feet instead of 13 feet.
When the sewer work resumes in March, possibly in the middle of the month, crews will begin installing new pipes at Eighth Street.
“Once they get past Eighth Street, heading toward Ninth Street, it’s a lot shallower so they’ll be able to move a lot quicker,” Gregowicz said.
The sewer separation phase will cost the city about $799,000 and DMS Contracting Inc. of Mascoutah is the general contractor.
The storm water collected along West Main Street from Sixth to 12th streets will be funneled into Richland Creek near the intersection of Sixth and West Main streets.
Also, the sewer work underway near Lindenwood University-Belleville and off Seventh Street is unrelated to the West Main streetscape project.
In the second phase of the West Main project, the streetscape features such as new pavement and sidewalks will be installed from Sixth to 12th streets. This work is estimated to cost $1.37 million and the city received a $1 million federal grant for this work.
Gregowicz said the city will seek bids for this phase in June. The work is expected to begin later this year and be finished in the spring of 2020.
In the third phase, streetscape improvements and some sewer separation work will be done on West Main Street from 12th Street to 17th Street.
This phase is estimated to cost $1.12 million and the city will seek a federal grant to help pay for this project, according to Gregowicz. The city will seek bids for this work in January 2020 with the hope that it will be completed by December 2020.
Gregowicz said the project will give West Main Street a much needed “facelift.”
Eckert noted the previous sreetscape projects on Main Street in the downtown district and on North Illinois Street have helped economic development in those areas. He believes the current construction hassles will pay off in the end.
“We know that the benefits will be very great,” he said.