Lincoln Way improvement project is behind schedule
Four months in, and the widening of Lincoln Way in White Oak is behind schedule.
PennDOT District 11 spokesman Steve Cowan said on Wednesday that utility relocation issues delayed a job that began on March 10 and is supposed to be done by May 2015.
“Because of these utility relocation problems we are slightly over budget,” Cowan added about the project covering 1.69 miles.
“Hopefully the end product is a good one and it will produce more business,” said Lincoln Way Café owner Bob Geraci, one of many operators of mom-and-pop establishments along the roadway.
“You can see what happens as far as business goes,” Lincoln Way Café patron Audrey Fulton said, pointing to the nine empty tables out of 13 in that eatery in mid-morning.
At $6.9 million, Plum Contracting Inc. of Salem Township was low bidder among five seeking to widen the road for new turning lanes, realign two intersections into one and do milling, resurfacing, drainage and signal upgrade work.
Over the years the expected price tag for the work had been as high as $10 million.
Additionally, Verizon is moving its wires and Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County is moving water mains alongside Plum crews.
“They turn the water off at will, and they turn it off at prime lunch times,” Jac's Café owner Joanne Collura said.
On Tuesday, customers came from DeBlasio's Designs, telling Collura water was shut off there, forcing cancellation of hair appointments.
“We didn't lose any customers,” shop owner Milissa DeBlasio said. “They worked very hard to get the water on and they did, and they were very polite about it.”
MAWC officials could not be reached for comment at presstime.
Verizon may finish its relocation efforts as early as the weekend.
“We're about 75 percent done,” Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski said on Wednesday. “Crews will be working for the rest of the week and into Saturday on cable transfers.”
Gierczynski said Verizon is coordinating its efforts with Duquesne Light and Comcast.
Collura has owned Jac's Café for seven years. She may lose several parking spaces in front.
“They're trying to turn this into a biker bar,” Jac's patron and motorcyclist Frank Boyd of Greenock joked. “All that will be able to park out there are motorcycles.”
Collura will try to take advantage of the space she still has outside, with a “construction site buffet” on Aug. 16.
On an average day, Cowan said approximately 23,580 vehicles use Lincoln Way.
That number surprises constituents of state Rep. Marc J. Gergely, D-White Oak, whose office is along Lincoln Way.
“We did get a couple calls when it first started, but since the first week or two we have not received any complaints,” Gergely chief of staff Tom Maglicco said. “(Plum Contracting) is pretty good at keeping the traffic flowing.”
“Crews have been getting off the roadway so there haven't been significant congestion problems,” Cowan said.
“They did the best they could under the circumstances with traffic control,” Jac's Café customer and former McKeesport controller Ray Malinchak said.
“It's not bad at all,” said Florence Jakub of Duquesne, “even when there is a backup.”
She frequents many establishments along Lincoln Way, including Gergely's office, an ear doctor, her bank, the UPS office and stores.
Some stores have to brace for occasional shutdowns of Lincoln Way and an adjacent access road.
“It has happened a few times,” said Andrew Macey, who with his mother Patti Macey have owned Patti's Pasticceria along Auld Street and Lincoln Way for the past two years. “I can't plan ahead.”
The Maceys credit “a great customer base” with keeping their bakery going.
“Fortunately, on weekends it has been busier,” Andrew Macey said. “Our customer base, we're getting more of them.”
“People come in here and complain,” S&T Bank customer service representative Denise Henry-Barnes of McKeesport said. “(On Wednesday) I was running late so I went up through (Renziehausen Park) and down Cool Springs Road to hit (Route) 48.”
She's not the only one who found alternate routes.
“You can't blame them,” Geraci said. “They don't want to sit in all that traffic.”
“Locals know the shortcuts,” Nick's Tobacco manager Kim Potts said. “The regulars will park across the street or at the (PNC) Bank next door.”
She said out-of-town customers “can't understand why” the work is going on.
Before the work began, Lincoln Way Café's Sandi Campbell said, “We were getting new customers from North Huntingdon and Irwin.”
“This would not be so bad if they hadn't torn up Pennsylvania Avenue and oiled and chipped State Street and Foster Road,” Lincoln Way Café customer Bruce Nelson said.
PennDOT, Allegheny County and municipal crews are repaving roads throughout the Mon-Yough area. Some PennDOT projects are funded under Act 89 of 2012.
Cowan advised motorists to “please be patient,” allow extra time when traveling Lincoln Way and “use caution in the work zone to protect yourself and your passengers, as well as our workers.”
White Oak borough has a supporting role in the story.
“The borough has been helpful,” Andrew Macey said.
“We've had quite a few meetings,” Mayor Ina Jean Marton said, referring to discussions by borough officials with PennDOT and the utilities. “We're very pleased with everyone coming together and working together.
At least one problem cropped up in the borough's efforts to provide assistance.
“The borough sent us letters telling us to provide some kind of coupons for the construction workers,” Collura said.
“It was a nice little gesture we were doing, for the contractors and for the PennDOT people,” Marton said.
“We would like to offer the workers a free Lincoln Way Project Coupon Card,” according to the mailing sent out by borough administrative assistant Michelle Gessner. “They would just show the card to the local business and be able to take advantage of the special offers throughout the whole construction project.”
But the idea didn't work for Jac's Café.
“They came in with dirty boots to use my restroom, and then left,” Collura said.
The coupon lists as participants Lincoln Way Café, Dorothy's Candies, Arby's, Subway, Mama Pepino Pizza, Patti's Pasticceria, Galdo's Pizza, Pizza Hut, Rita's and White Oak Florist.
“I carry them around with me and I say (to the crews working on Lincoln Way), “go check out the restaurants we have,” borough office clerk Jennifer O'Brien said.
“Some of the vendors haven't noticed (any response),” Gessner said. “Other ones get some here and there. A lot of (the crews) utilize the businesses that are on there.”
For instance, a water company employee asked at Lincoln Way Café, “Do you have a lunch menu?”
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.