As a Philadelphia Water Department utility project on Rochelle Avenue stretches into the fall, Wissahickon residents are getting frustrated.
Neighbors along the normally sleepy 200 block of Rochelle Avenue have voiced frustrations through emails, phone calls, civic meetings and message boards, complaining that the overhaul negatively impacts parking, causes poor access for emergency vehicles, churns up dusk, and drives animals onto their properties.
Although the water department admits the work causes "inconvenience" and is "intensive," spokesperson Joanne Dahme also called it "necessary," and the department has received fewer complaints than expected.
"Our office has received fewer than expected calls, questions and complaints concerning this particular project, and overall, we are pleased with the contractor's rate of progress and cooperative efforts toward addressing community concerns," she said in an email to Patch.
Rochelle Avenue is part of a five-block, $3.2 million water and sewer reconstruction. Dahme said it involves "the replacement of the sanitary and storm sewer systems (the storm sewer is piggybacked on top of the sanitary). The sewers are deeper than water mains, require much excavation and heavy equipment and for smaller streets like Rochelle, street closures."
A Neighbor Speaks Out
Kelly Erb lives on Rochelle Avenue, and has filed complaints with the Wissahickon Interested Citizens Association, the Office of Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., and the water department.
In an email shared with Patch she said the construction project is not sustainable for the neighborhood. She said parking has disappeared, proper space is lacking for emergency vehicles to turn onto Rochelle, and corners are blocked, making it tough for children to cross the street to nearby Cook-Wissahickon Elementary School.
"Our neighborhood has been willing to bear this burden for several months but we are now tired. I am tired of my children picking up trash off of the street left by the contractors. I am tired of looking for parking, tired of the construction that starts far earlier in the morning than is allowed (sometimes, well before 7) and tired of the general disregard for our neighborhood demonstrated by the City and its contractors," she said.
Another resident, T.J. Hacic, told Patch in July that the project is driving out all the sewer rats.
"I have a pristine yard, spotless home and pool, with manicured gardens. Now, since the project (that left my home inaccessible for three months) began, the neighborhood has a rat infestation," Hacic said. "This construction problems just gets worse every day, with layers of bureaucratic government and agencies to 'dig' through."
Erb also detailed an incident where she complained to a project leader from Carusone, the contractor, about a double-parked vehicle. In the episode, she said she felt threatened by the worker and disrespected. She said the construction worker wouldn't answer specific questions and referred everything back to the water department.
"(H)e ended our conversation by shaking a pack of menthol cigarettes and asking over and over in a menacing tone: And where do you live? Where do you live?" she said.
The Water Department Responds
Dahme said the water department and its contractor have tried to work with residents. For example, parking is actually prohibited on Rochelle Avenue during the project, but the contractor allows it during evening hours.
"Although the street remains posted with 'no parking' signs, in a gesture of good will, the contractor has permitted local residents to park on this 'closed' street, making it a bit more challenging for him to access material deliveries and storage, and impeding day to day construction activity," Dahme said.
Regarding emergency vehicles, Dahme said the project secure plan approval from the Streets Department's Traffic Engineering Division, Philadelphia Police and Philadelphia Fire Department.
Dahme said the water department does direct contractors to have project engineers handle resident's complaints. Specifically on Erb's incident, Dahme said:
"The contractor did ask Ms. Erb where she lived, as he wanted to understand what specific concerns she had about the project in relation to her home (e.g., was one of his trucks blocking her car). His perspective of their conversation was much different. This is a contractor who has never been a source of complaints for PWD... Unfortunately, heavy construction can be challenging in residential and business communities and it is hard to keep everyone happy. But we do our best to address all concerns."
How Much Longer?
The problems on Rochelle Avenue could conclude within a few weeks.
"We expect to complete the sewer work itself within the next few days, and after installing new stormwater inlets and laterals, (we will) begin roadway paving restoration immediately thereafter. This is particularly noteworthy given the impact this phase of the work has had on local traffic flow, parking, and access to the nearby school and train station," Dahme said.
That means, following road resurfacing, Rochelle Avenue could reopen to through traffic within the next six weeks. Sewer reconstruction would then begin on Manayunk Avenue.
Overall, Dahme said the project recently passed the midway point and is four to six weeks ahead of the April 11, 2013 timetable.
"All we can do is try to keep the disruption to a minimum, complete the work without delay, and restore the street to life as normal as quickly as
possible," she said.
Visit the water department's website for more information.