East Houston Street Construction Nightmare Extended Through 2014

By Andrea Swalec on May 21, 2012 6:47am 

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MANHATTAN — The blinking lane closure signs, torn-up sidewalks and missing crosswalks that have turned Houston Street into an obstacle course for the past seven years aren't going anywhere soon, DNAinfo New York has learned.

The $60 million Houston Street Corridor Reconstruction project — which will rebuild the road surface, replace water and sewer mains and install new curbs, sidewalks, traffic signals and more — had been scheduled to wrap up in spring 2013.

But complications with underground cables and pipes have pushed the expected end date back to summer 2014, according to the city Department of Design and Construction, which is coordinating the work.

“Utilities must be relocated before we can install distribution and trunk water mains, catch basins and roadway medians," a DDC spokesman said in a statement.

"This process is being performed by various utility companies." 

The news came as an unpleasant surprise to many Lower East Side and East Village business owners, who said the work from the Bowery to the FDR Drive that began in fall 2010 has turned the street into a nightmarish obstacle course for drivers and pedestrians, driving away customers and hurting their business.

"This is the worst thing ever," said William Castillo, the owner of the cell phone store Bus Stop Wireless at East Houston and East 2nd streets.

"The traffic pattern is lousy and cars and people on the street that used to come in don't bother anymore." 

Castillo said he had no idea that construction would last longer than planned, adding that he is frustrated by the impact the construction has had on his business.

Harry Madan, franchise owner of the Subway sandwich shop on East Houston Street near Suffolk Street, said he's considering closing the location after losing about 50 percent of his customer base because of the narrowed sidewalk, obstructed crosswalk and other construction headaches outside his door.

"If the city keeps everything closed like this, maybe we have to close," Madan said. "People don't cross Houston from the [south] side to get here." 

William Castillo, the owner of the cell phone store Bus Stop Wireless at East Houston and East 2nd streets, said he couldn't believe the construction that has reduced lanes of traffic in front of his shop would last longer than planned.
William Castillo, the owner of the cell phone store Bus Stop Wireless at East Houston and East 2nd streets, said he couldn't believe the construction that has reduced lanes of traffic in front of his shop would last longer than planned.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

Valdrin Xhakli, a Bronx resident who drives to and from his job at a Greenwich Village pizza shop, said the Houston Street construction adds at least 30 minutes to his commute during rush hour. 

"If I had those extra 30 minutes, I could get home earlier and relax," he said. 

The traffic jam is compounded by the $135 million MTA "mega project" that's designed to connect the Broadway/Lafayette station's B, D, F, M and downtown 6 train with the Bleecker Street station's uptown 6 train station.

The work, which includes the installation of five handicap-accessible elevators, has snarled SoHo and NoHo traffic since it began in July 2008, locals said.

"The project has changed the entire landscape of Lafayette Street and has made Houston and Lafayette horrible to navigate," said Zella Jones, head of the neighborhood group NoHo-Bowery Stakeholders.

Community advocates said the construction has hurt local businesses and created a dangerous environment for pedestrians, bikers and drivers.

Shirley Secunda, the chair of Community Board 2's transportation committee, said a lack of coordination between the DDC, MTA and Department of Transportation seemed to worsen the two projects' impact on locals. 

"For years, they were closing up the same stretch of street and opening it back up again," said Secunda, a retired urban planner. "It was more time-consuming and disruptive than it needed to be."

Santos Arce, a store supervisor at pet store Happy Paws on Lafayette Street, north of East Houston Street, said he looked forward to the light at the end of the tunnel with the MTA construction, which an MTA spokesman said will end "at some point in June."

"I'm ecstatic that it's almost over," Arce said. "We have people coming in all the time asking how to get uptown. [The Bleecker-Broadway/Lafayette station] will make it easier for them." 

Houston street businesses west of the Bowery were subject to similar work from 2005 to 2009, when the first phase of the Houston Street Corridor Reconstruction project stretched from the West Side Highway to the Bowery.

The work created a years-long headache, but ultimately improved conditions for drivers and pedestrians, but now that the western section is completed, the road is smooth, the sidewalk is better and there are countdown clocks at each crosswalk, locals say.

"People couldn't park and people walking couldn't get past the broken sidewalk and barriers," said Pedro Rama, owner of El Paso Restaurant on West Houston Street near Sullivan Street. 

MTA construction scheduled to end in June 2012 has snarled traffic on East Houston Street in NoHo and SoHo.
MTA construction scheduled to end in June 2012 has snarled traffic on East Houston Street in NoHo and SoHo.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

Rama said he wouldn't wish the pain of construction on anyone, but said he empathized with his neighbors to the east.

"Maybe those improvements make it worth it," Rama said. 

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