Two representatives of the city explained to a group of Vandalia merchants on Friday afternoon what they’ve been told about the lengthy closure of two block of Gallatin Street.
Now, they’re hoping that the merchants will be able to hear from those who have direct control over the closure.
Vandalia Mayor Rick Gottman was accompanied by Public Works Director John Moyer at a noon meeting held at Something Special Florist.
About a dozen merchants whose stores are in or near the 300 and 400 blocks of Gallatin Street were present for the meeting, which Gottman called to talk about the extended closure of the two blocks due to inclement weather.
Gottman and Moyer told those merchants that the city has tried everything possible to get those two blocks opened to traffic when weather prevents work on the streetscape project.
The only option to get that done, Gottman said, is to pay the general contractor close to $3,900 each time the two blocks are opened up.
And, he said, the contractor has the power to shut the road back down whenever it wishes, even if it’s just a day or two after it was opened up.
“It we pay $3,800 to open it on Monday, they could close it on Wednesday,” Gottman said.
As expected, merchants in the two-block area are not happy. The mayor said he isn’t, either.
“I’m not pleased with it,” Gottman said. “It’s been a struggle.
“There have been numerous conservations and e-mails (with the contractor) about this,” he said.
Gottman said he believes, “We could have this street open without paying $3,800.”
Rita Mae Allen of Allen Furniture said she believes the city should do what’s necessary to get the blocks opened up to traffic.
“It’s getting pretty serious,” Allen said. “We can’t take it much longer.”
Gottman said that he has relayed the seriousness of the situation onto the city council, but Allen said, “The people voting on this are not in business (downtown).
“People are going out of town (to shop). They’re not coming downtown. It’s getting sad, very, very sad,” Allen said.
“I think the city should pay that money (to get the street open),” she said, adding that the city will get that money back in sales tax monies.
Several present said that Hank’s Excavating representatives had said at earlier meetings with the merchants that they would ensure that people had access to all buildings throughout the process.
Gottman said, “You do have access, they (Hank’s) say. They say that people can walk through the construction zone.
Marie Siebert, who operates Tapers Barber Shop in the 400 block of West Gallatin Street, said, “I see people stop at the corner. They act like they’re afraid to walk down that road.”
Siebert, like Allen, said the closure has been very hard on downtown merchants. “I’m making just enough money to keep my barber shop open,” she said.
Deb Jones, who owns the Sunshine House Health Food Store in the 400 block of Gallatin with her husband, Jeff, said that even though customers can walk through the construction area, access is not as good as what the merchants expected.
“We’ve done quite a bit of patching up because of people having accidents,” Jones said.
She also said that she and her husband are promoting the construction as a unique experience for people. “We tell people that you aren’t able to walk down the middle of Gallatin Street any other time,” she said.
Gottman said he would attempt to set up a meeting during which Hank’s Excavating and Illinois Department of Transportation representatives could explain the status of the project and the plans for opening the street.
“When you merchants call me, I do what I can,” Gottman said. “But, sometimes, my hands are tied.”
He said if it were up to him, the street would be opened at times when work is not being done. But it’s not, he said.
“It’s their area (right now),” Gottman said.
He did inform the group of merchants and building owners that he had gotten permission to open the intersection of Fourth and Gallatin streets. Within an hour of that meeting, city employees were moving the barricades and setting up temporary stop signs at the intersection.
Donelle Conaway, owner of Something Special Florist and the host for Friday’s meeting, said the opening of that intersection should be of some benefit to the merchants.
“Right now, people are afraid to come up Fourth Street,” she said.
“Without Fourth Street (opened up) were are dead ends,” Conaway said.
“This will help considerably,” she said. “Anything (that can be done) will help.”