NEW BRITAIN – Business owners that have taken a financial hit as a result of the reconstruction of the West Main Street bridge may unite to consider their legal options against the state.
That was one of the prospects contemplated by 20 people who gathered at King Pizza on Saturday to air their criticism of the project, two years ago after it began.
State Sen. Terry Gerratana, the event’s organizer, said she has become increasingly frustrated by the work at the intersection of West Main and Burritt streets, both as a legislator and a motorist. Living on nearby Lincoln Street, she said the ongoing bridge rehab long ago became a thorn in the side of the area’s economy – and patience. She hosted the event as way to hear collectively from business owners affected by road blocks, traffic delays and irritated customers.
Rinku Ghutadaria, owner of the Regal Package Store, in the shopping strip just west of the overpass, said he has lost over $100,000 in the last three months due to the project. Waving a set of sales receipts, Ghutadaria said the work has created a daily mess of traffic back-ups and blocked intersections.
“Someone needs to take the lead on this thing,” said Ghutadaria, who has run the shop for 14 years. “They can say it will be done in June, but who is going to guarantee that my customers will come back? Am I supposed to just rebuild my business? I don’t have time to do that.”
Rich Bolbrock, manager of the neighboring Sherwin-Williams paint store, said the state Department of Transportation has left business and property owners out of the loop on the project, causing him to shrug his shoulders when customers ask how long the inconvenience will last.
“My contractors are trying to avoid the area and when they ask what the timeline is, I have to say I don’t know,” Bolbrock said. “We were left in the dark about this whole project and that’s very disappointing.”
The reconstruction of the bridge over the Pan Am Southern Railroad began in late January 2015. According to the DOT, the project calls for a significant upgrade and replacement of deteriorated areas of the structure. Construction will also create an exclusive left-turn lane for traffic headed north onto Burritt Street from West Main Street.
The $6.9 million project is funded with state and federal money. While the DOT timeline called in late 2014 for work to be completed by last August, an agency project engineer told The Herald late last year that completion is now projected for next month.
The project has resulted in an alternating one-way traffic pattern along West Main Street and a voluntary detour/alternate route using Lincoln Street and Black Rock and Corbin avenues to West Main.
Tim Stewart, president of the Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce, said he has gotten word that traffic in both directions will reopen at some point in May. He told those gathered that the construction plan as it continues to play out was the one that prevailed over an initial effort to close the bridge entirely for up to one year.
“It could have been a whole lot worse or a whole lot better depending on how you look at it,” Stewart said.
Bob Story of Story Brothers Auto told Gerratana the story of a local clergywoman who was stopped by a DOT worker last year as she attempted to make her way to the auto shop. When the worker told her access was restricted, she said she was headed to Story Brothers to get gas for her vehicle. “He told her ‘Well, there are other gas stations in town,’ ” Story said. “That was the turning point with this whole thing. It’s just sad.”
Story suggested he and his fellow business owners regroup and consider hiring an attorney to investigate what may be done to help them recoup any of their financial losses.
Gerratana said she would take the concerns voiced to the DOT and the legislature’s Transportation Committee.
Christopher Fortier can be reached at 860-801-5063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.