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Rochelle Ave. Neighbors Call Water Department Project 'Invasive,' 'Burden'

Rochelle Avenue project brings headaches to Wissahickon residents.

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.

laowl September 17, 2012 at 02:14 PM
As resident of the 100 Block of Rochelle Avenue I agree the construction has been an inconvenience and the early morning noise has not been pleasant. However, I have to say all in all the folks who have been out here working have been quite pleasant. As they have been working on our end of the street over the last two weeks I have had the opportunity to know the foreman on the job and he has been very helpful in providing updates on the project and after my request he made sure the site was cleared of trash at the end of each day. I also had the opportunity to speak with the owner of the company doing the work and a PWD inspector who were both more than accommodating. All of the workers have been more than courteous. And in fact myself and some of my neighbors have been commenting on how these are a "bunch of nice guys". Its always easy to complain about having our lives disturbed, works still needs to get done. I am curious to know if those neighbors that have expressed issues have come up with solutions or recommendations? Though all of us at my end of Rochelle look forward to are street getting back to normal, this experience was made less painful by those working on the project.
Kelly Phillips Erb September 17, 2012 at 03:00 PM
As one of the folks who was involved in this story directly (Kelly, on the 200 block), I wanted to chime in that I did offer suggestions. In fact, before I lodged a complaint, I contacted the super to discuss some worries about the turning radius for emergency vehicles and the poor condition of the fencing (I tripped over some poorly placed fencing). The contact info provided to us in a letter sent by the Councilman's office turned out not to be the right info, according to the gentleman I called. He said that another super was in charge and they would call me back. Nobody did. So it was nearly impossible to provide any feedback other than through the Councilman's office. In the interim, I didn't just complain, I acted. My kids picked up their trash. I kept thinking it would be over soon. When I spoke to the super on the street, I suggested that they could have printed up more flyers - rather than stick a few handwritten ones on car windows - and passed them out to the residents since in this neighborhood, street addresses don't necessarily equate to parking (meaning that you could live on Rochelle and park on Freeland and vice versa). The super on the block told me, angrily, that he didn't have to do anything, that he had done all he had to do. He also refused to tell me where they would be working next or how long it would last... I didn't get an end date from anyone but the Patch.
A resident September 17, 2012 at 05:00 PM
The guys have always been 100% polite, courteous and helpful this entire time. They've been extremely forgiving about parking- wasting time out of the hours they should be working knocking on doors and asking people to move cars that weren't supposed to be parked where they were in the early phases of construction instead of towing them- and not towing people, or only towing them to a different spot (and I think that only happened once). People on the 200 block have always double-parked- even before there was construction, there are always cars up there with hazard lights on. I live right smack in the middle of the most disrupted part of the street and drive a large vehicle, and the parking situation has still been better than it was before with no construction and people parking inconsiderately. They addressed the issues with emergency vehicles and deliveries thanks to the actions of concerned citizens who went up the right avenues of communication, and they made parking available but people abused the privilege. It's annoying, but it could be worse- people in other countries' major complaints right now are that their government is air-raiding them and killing civilians. Perspective is handy. And anyone who works in construction knows that there are many levels of responsibility to a project- it's not the super's job to change the work scope based on resident requests. He's tasked with making sure the system is secure and the street safely rebuilt.
Carla September 17, 2012 at 09:51 PM
I can vouch for the rat infestation. I was visiting TJ Hacic (in story) when my son and I spotted at least 3 rats run across his property. Though parking was a bit of an inconvenience for me, I feel badly for the people having to deal with this on a daily basis. Carla (Buffalo)
Mariana January 25, 2013 at 05:45 AM
I am so over this.

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