by nathan oster
Downtown businesses are feeling the pain as the construction project unfolding in front of their stores enters its fifth week, with no end in sight.
“It’s just killing us,” said an exasperated Joni Hansen, one of the owners of the Uptown Café.
Hansen said that with no parking in front and just a narrow, 4-foot walkway access for pedestrians, the restaurant has begun closing at 2 p.m. during the week.
“We should be closed every day … because every single day we are losing money,” she said. “There just isn’t anywhere to park, and this community is filled with older people who can’t walk a block or a block and a half.”
Hansen made the comments during the weekly construction meeting, which was attended by representatives of the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the prime contractor, S&S Builders of Gillette.
“There’s been a restaurant there for 96 years, and it would be a shame if we had to close it now,” Hansen said.
Another concern voiced Thursday was the safety of the intersection of Greybull Avenue and Sixth Street, where two of the four corners are torn up — and a third is likely to be added to that list in the coming weeks.
Marion Hansen of the Uptown Café said she’s seen trucks run through the intersection without stopping, and that the problem is the worst in the evenings due to the poor visibility of the signage.
Discussion at the meeting focused on what could be done to improve the visibility of the stop signs, particularly at night. One suggestion was a flashing red light. Another was to install signs before the intersection informing motorists of a “stop ahead.”
Edward Mitchell said no business has been more adversely impacted by the construction than his, which fronts North Sixth Street and is to the rear of the Historic Hotel Greybull. When the sidewalk in front of his store was removed, he lost all access, except for a temporary plank that was put there by construction workers.
“It’s hurting all of us,” he said. “We just have to bear with it until the project is finished. No matter how much we complain, it won’t make the project get done any sooner.”
The project hit a temporary snag when the town’s public works department, while in the course of relocating services, discovered the presence of three underground gas tanks in front of the law office of Scott McColloch.
The tanks were discovered approximately 4 feet below the surface, and while there was some concern among officials about how long it would delay the project, those were alleviated.
Paul Koenig, the project inspector for WYDOT, said the tanks were removed on Thursday. “They’re out and gone,” he said. “The DEQ gave us clearance to pull them; there was no contamination obvious or present.
“So that didn’t really hold us up at all.”
As for the week ahead, Koenig said Tuesday the initial push will be to get the sidewalks poured on the north side of Sixth Street between Greybull Avenue and First Avenue North.
From there the focus will shift to finishing up the rear access area behind the Bank of Greybull, then to the stretch of Greybull Avenue between Fifth Street and Sixth Street.
First will come the curb and gutter likely toward the end of this week. Koenig said the hope is to have the street paved by the end of next week and, long term, to have the sidewalks along that stretch finished by the Days of ’49. That, however, is weather dependent.
When asked Tuesday about how the project is going, Koenig said it’s at about 35 percent finished. “Getting that block done between Sixth and Fifth will help immensely,” he said. “When that happens, we’ll be past the midway point.”
Koenig said he feels for the businesses that have been impacted.
“Everything we’re going to be doing in these next couple of weeks will be geared toward not only getting ready for the Days of ’49, but also toward getting parking in there for those businesses.
“The project can only go as fast as it can go … it’s the nature of the beast with construction and this particular project.”