The Work Begins (Finally!)

Ten years after an expansive streetscape project for Vandalia’s downtown business district was first discussed, work on that project is under way on Gallatin Street.

As local operator Ronnie Smith began digging at the intersection of Fifth and Gallatin streets on Tuesday morning, Mayor Rick Gottman and engineer Lorne Jackson stood half a block away, explaining the flow of the project to a group of downtown merchants.

Eleven hours later, merchants, city officials and other Vandalia residents received a similar report on the project.

It was on Feb. 24, 1999, when Sandra Leidner, Vandalia’s mayor at the time, first asked the Vandalia City Council to approve an application for a federal Transportation Equity Act grant for a downtown revitalization project.

On Nov. 1, 2000, the city learned it was receiving a $1.709-million TEA-21 grant, to go along with a $185,000 grant it had received for the engineering related to the project.

The downtown project has always included new sidewalks, period street lights, trash cans, benches and trees for the downtown, but early versions also included a brick resurfacing of Gallatin Street between Third and Seventh streets.

But the city council voted three years later to pull the brick streets from the project, opting instead for a new concrete surface. The city’s grant award was scaled back to about $1 million after the street surface change was made.

The TEA-21 grant will provide 80-percent funding for new sidewalks with brick-stamped edges and brick or brick-stamped insets, trash cans and benches, flowering dogwood trees, the replacement of existing street lights with period lighting and the relocation of all utility lines along Gallatin Street underground. The grant funds were also used for the city’s 10 Looking for Lincoln wayside exhibits.

The city is getting a little less than $200,000 from the state for the new roadway surface, which is estimated to cost about $1.2 million.

The downtown project actually got under way a couple of weeks ago, when Mettler Development of Highland performed sewer line work in the alley south of Gallatin Street between Fourth and Fifth streets.

Mettler’s work on the project also includes the repairs to sewer lines at the Fifth Street intersection that began on Tuesday. Once that’s completed, workers will move to the Sixth Street intersection for similar repairs.

Then, Jackson said, comes the laying of new storm sewer lines on Fifth and Sixth streets from Gallatin Street to the town branch about 2 ½ blocks north.

Those new lines are among the new storm sewer lines being laid throughout the downtown project area. Currently, storm sewer and sanitary sewer lines in that area run together.

Hank’s will then begin tearing up Gallatin Street, putting in new storm sewer lines, laying down the new roadway and adding all of the above-ground elements of the streetscape work.

The work will begin just east of the Seventh Street intersection, and owner Hank Rohwedder estimates that it will take about three months to complete each block of the project, which runs east to Third Street (Kennedy Boulevard).

John Kramper, project manager, added that the pace of the work should increase after that first block is completed, and that the firm is looking into options that could speed up the work, including doing preliminary work in one block while work in another is being completed.

The firm hopes to have the work done by the projected completion date of June 1, 2010.

But, he said, there are unknown factors that could cause delays. One of those unknowns is the weather.

The other, he said, is what lies underground. “As you know, the downtown is an old, established area, and you sometimes run into things that cause delays.”

Both Rohwedder and Kramper emphasized to the merchants who were in the crowd of about 30 people that they are committed to keeping interruptions to downtown merchants at a minimum, and that communication will be vital to make that happen..

“Those of you who aren’t in the first section (Seventh Street to Sixth Street) need to pay attention to what’s going on in that first section, so you can know what to expect,” Kramper said.

Right now, Hank’s plans to finish the first section at the beginning of June and the second section at the beginning of September. It is in the May-September period, he said, that the firm hopes to expedite its work and gain ground on the overall schedule.

Those merchants thinking that they would lose front-door access to their business for three months learned that that’s not the case.

Joy Clymer-Budny of Clymer TV & Appliances said they receive deliveries through their front door, and that they couldn’t go three months without deliveries.

Kramper said they wouldn’t have to.

“We’ll tear out the road and follow with rock. There will be a drivable surface,” Kramper said.

“That kind of thing happened in Belleville (where Hank’s recently completed an $8.8-million streetscape project), and we accommodated them,” he said.

Mayor Rick Gottman told those at Tuesday night’s meeting that the goal is to see that no business is closed for even one full day.

Gottman, Kramper and Rohwedder emphasized that for the inconveniences to be minimized, the merchants need to let them know such things as delivery schedules and the possibility of using rear entrances for even brief periods of time.

“We will work with you,” Kramper said.

Gottman added, “We will do, within reason, whatever we can to help the business owners.”

After the meeting, Rohwedder said, “Our feeling is that there is no problem that can’t be solved.

“Everyone has to understand that this is construction, and some of the things that construction causes, but construction is progress. We think everyone will be much happier with the downtown when this is done,” he said.

Right now, Kramper said, Hank’s plans to work Monday through Friday, eight hours a day. That could be amped up to 10-hour work days and/or six-day work weeks to speed up the progress, he said.

Kramper said Hank’s has been notified of the community’s festivals schedule, and the firm believes that Vandalia can plan to hold those festivals in the coming 12 months.

However, Gottman said, the one activity that will have to be relocated is the Vandalia Lions’ Club’s Halloween parade at the end of October.

Gottman said he would be talking with Lions Club members to work out a plan for this year’s parade.

The mayor also said that the city, project contractors and Vandalia Main Street officials are committed to keep downtown merchants, and all residents, updated on the project on a regular basis.

To that end, Vandalia Main Street is holding monthly merchants’ meetings. The first of those meetings was held on Tuesday at Celebrations in the 400 block of West Gallatin Street.

Representatives from the city and Hank’s will be present at those meetings for project updates.

“You need to come to these meetings, because that’s where a lot of this information is going to be given out,” Gottman said at Tuesday night’s meeting, speaking to the merchants who were present.

Hank Rohwedder of Hank’s Excavating and Landscaping of Belleville, the general contractor for the downtown streetscape project, explains how the project will progress. At right is Vandalia Mayor Rick Gottman.

About 25 people attended the informational meeting on the downtown streetscape project held Tuesday night at Vandalia City Hall.

Local operator Ronnie Smith begins digging at the intersection of Fifth and Gallatin streets on Tuesday morning as repair work to sewer lines got under way.

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