A massive project to replace waterlines along Massachusetts Street may not have downtown's main road torn up for as long as once thought.
City leaders have a plan to complete the project - slated to begin May 22 - in mid-September, about a month earlier than originally expected. The new plan emerged after downtown business owners expressed concerns about the original plan, which had parts of the downtown street under construction for three months.
"I definitely think it is a good idea to shorten it up," said Jack Arensberg, an owner of Arensberg Shoes, 825 Mass. "It's going to hurt enough as it is."
The plan that the city's Utilities Department is now recommending would involve crews working to replace the waterlines in the 700 and 800 blocks of Massachusetts Street simultaneously rather than a block at a time.
Although 100-year-old waterlines on both sides of the street must be replaced, crews would work on only one side of the street at a time. That would allow the two-block portion of Massachusetts Street to remain open for one-way traffic at all times. Parking also would be allowed on one side of the street.
City commissioners are scheduled to receive the new plan at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday as part of their weekly meeting. Mayor Mike Amyx, who owns a barbershop at 842 1/2 Mass., said the plan sounded good to him.
"We want to make sure that we do everything we can to accommodate the customers and the businesses downtown," Amyx said.
Amyx, though, said he needed to think about a recommendation to include a clause in the contract that would pay the contractors $1,000 per day for each day the project was finished ahead of schedule.
The main difference between the new plan and the original plan is that crews were going to work on one block at a time, in an effort to minimize the number of businesses that would have work occurring in front of their stores at any given time.
But Chris Stewart, the city's interim director of utilities, said business owners who had attended a meeting with department leaders this week were nearly unanimous in their preference for the project to be completed earlier.
He said the new plan would be better for construction crews and would not add costs to the $1.59 million project.
City leaders came up with another plan to complete the project by late August, but it would have closed the two-block portion of Massachusetts Street during construction. Downtown business owners said that plan would be untenable.
Bob Schumm, owner of Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse and Mass Street Deli, said sales had declined considerably when the street was closed. As an example, he said business had dropped off by about 50 percent when the street was closed for a downtown bike race last May.
"We felt like if we would have done that, some people may have had to close their businesses," Schumm said.
Schumm said downtown merchants were planning to band together and do advertising, offer specials and perhaps come up with events to encourage people to come downtown despite the construction.
The city received only one bid to construct the project, from the contractor who did the waterline replacement in the 600 block of Massachusetts Street last year. Nowak Construction bid $1.59 million, just less than the $1.61 million the city budgeted for the project.
Stewart and several downtown business owners said they were pleased with the job Nowak did last year because the company had tried to keep sidewalks clear and took other steps to keep businesses accessible to customers.
"Our overall theme again will be that downtown businesses are open and that we'll do everything we can to make sure everyone understands that," Stewart said.