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South Limestone business owners plead for faster roadwork

Business owners along South Limestone asked Urban County Council members Tuesday if the contractor in charge of overhauling the street could speed up the work, because their businesses are suffering.

Liza Betz, owner of Failte, The Irish Import Shop, said her business was off 15 percent this summer.

"Business owners are struggling to keep their doors open," said Lori Vaught, supervisor at McDonald's. "We're down 40 percent in September, and that's with the students back."

Joe Graviss, McDonald's owner, urged the council to amend the city's contract with ATS Construction, main contractor on the project, to require the company to work three crews a day instead of one.

Project manager George Milligan said working all night was not feasible because after 6 p.m, "We cannot get materials. The concrete plants close. Concrete cannot be stockpiled."

And a city noise ordinance prohibits working after 10 p.m., he said.

"We'd be better off adding additional work crews during the day," Milligan said. ATS will be doing just that starting Wednesday, when Maxwell Street closes for four weeks.

The yearlong, $17 million road project will transform Limestone, the major corridor between the University of Kentucky and downtown, with underground utility lines and new sewers, sidewalks, trees and rain gardens.

Mike Webb, commissioner of public works, said the time frame for the work is already "very compressed." It's not just a question of getting the contractor to work faster, he said. "Their work has to be coordinated with the utilities on their schedule."

Vice Mayor Jim Gray, who is in the construction business, said he had never seen a project that could not be improved or accelerated. "We need to explore how we can move this along faster. I'm not satisfied it can't be done," he said.

Limestone was closed July 22 as work started on the intersection of Limestone and Avenue of Champions. The intersection reopened Aug. 13, a week ahead of schedule and two weeks before UK students returned to class. The High Street and Limestone intersection opened five days ahead of schedule.

However, councilwoman Diana Lawless said the city is paying "an awful lot of premium money" for things ATS is not following through on, such as moving "giant bulldozers and trucks" off Limestone each night to a fenced parking lot, and storing materials off-site.

"Once construction began, it became not feasible to store materials off site," Milligan said. "The plan as they proposed it didn't work."

As for removing heavy equipment from Limestone each evening, Lawless said she had seen the designated parking lot virtually empty after dark. Milligan replied, "We will see that lot is full every night."

The schedule calls for underground construction work to be completed by mid-November. This includes laying sewers and conduit that will hold all the overhead utility lines.

Between November and late March, utility companies will run the necessary wiring through the conduits. South Limestone will still be closed except to local traffic.

The last phase will be installing sidewalks and paving the street, with completion slated for July 2010.

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