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Downtown project off to a good start

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

At the first merchants meeting held since the start of Vandalia’s downtown enhancement project, the general contractor heard a concern about people being able to get to downtown businesses.

And a representative of that firm reiterated to the merchants that it will do everything possible to allow for access to every downtown business throughout the construction process.

Terry Fields, the site superintendent on the project for Hank’s Excavating of Belleville, gave the first of many construction updates at the second “Mornings on Main Street” meetings held by Vandalia Main Street.

“There will be some incovenience, we know that,” Fields told a small group of merchants at the meeting held on Tuesday morning at WPMB-WKRV Radio.

“But we can deal with them,” Fields said.

Fields addressed the issue of access to downtown businesses after learning that Smith Home Furnishings was concerned about customers not being able to get to their store in the 100 block of North Fifth Street during its liquidation sale.

Fields explained that while barricades point out to motorists where construction is under way, motorists would most often be able to make it around without interrupting the work.

A significant part of the project got under way on Monday, when a Hank’s crew began working on the extension of new storm sewer lines between Gallatin Street and the town branch south of Randolph Street.

Fields said that Hank’s plans to wrap up that part of the project by Saturday, then move over and do the same work on Sixth Street.

After that, workers will begin laying new storm sewer lines on Fifth and Sixth streets downtown, he said.

Then, “we’ll start closing down Gallatin Street in stages,” he said, estimating that the Hank’s will begin ripping up Gallatin Street at the beginning of June.

“That could change, because there are still some decisions to be make about relocating the water line (along Gallatin Street),” Fields said.

At this point, the downtown enhancement project does not include new water lines along Gallatin. But the city is hoping to procure some state funds that would allow the new lines to be added.

At Monday’s meeting, the council voted to have the South Central Illinois Regional Planning and Development Commission prepare for the city an application for state Community Development Assistance Program funds.

Through a CDAP grant, the state would provide 75 percent of the funding for the new water lines. The city would be allowed to use monies already allotted for the downtown project as its 25-percent share, according to City Administrator Jimmy Morani.

The work on Gallatin Street will be done a block at a time, beginning in the block between Seventh and Sixth streets.

The project – which will include a new concrete road surface, period street lights, dogwood trees, new sidewalks with brick edging and insets, and the relocation of overhead utility lines underground – is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2010.

Fields said Hank’s is willing to go the extra mile to keep the project moving along at a good pace.

“We will work 10-hour days when it makes sense, and we will work on Saturdays when it makes sense,” he said.

If merchants have questions about how the project will affect their business, they shouldn’t hesitate to talk to him or any of the workers, Fields said.

“Don’t (hesitate) saying something to us,” he said. “If there’s a problem, we will work to accommodate you, and if we can’t, we’ll explain why we can’t.”

Fields said the project got off to a good start on Monday.

“If everything goes as well as it did yesterday, it will be good,” he said.

Vandalia Main Street is holding the “Mornings on Main Street” meetings each month to keep merchants updated on the status of the project, and to allow merchants to ask contractors or city officials questions about the work being done.