BRIDGEPORT — An underground sewer pipe repair project at 31st and Halsted streets is forcing traffic detours and causing headaches for shop owners who are preparing for the busy holiday shopping season.
"I'm freaking out. Like, absolutely freaking out. People come here from all different areas [for holiday shopping]. If they can't get here or park, I don't know what we'll do," said Leanne Scanlon, co-owner of Hardscrabble Gifts, 3333 S. Halsted St.
Ald. James Balcer (11th) said the project, which will replace a century-old sewer, couldn't wait any longer.
"I've been talking with the police and Office of Emergency Management and Communications about how we can help straighten this out, but people are going to be inconvenienced for a bit. But it has to be done ... this is your tax dollars at work," he said.
The construction work is taking place throughout Bridgeport, resulting in various road closures. At 31st and Halsted streets, near one of the neighborhood's main commercial stretches, work crews have closed portions of the roads surrounding the project — up to four blocks away.
Here's a breakdown of the current Halsted Street traffic plan:
• The southbound lanes of Halsted are open from 31st to 35th streets, but portions of the street are closed to northbound traffic. Drivers can make their way from 35th to 33rd street, where they'll be re-routed east toward Union Avenue to eventually get to 31st Street to rejoin Halsted.
• Northbound No. 8 CTA buses, meanwhile, are detouring once they reach 35th street. They're heading east to Wallace Street and rejoining Halsted at 31st St.
• Southbound buses are not affected, except for a quick rejiggering through the 31st Street intersection.
Adding to those traffic headaches is another street closure — the westbound lanes of 31st Street are completely closed to traffic at Halsted.
Alan Didzbalis, a engineering consultant for the project, said work crews are making the project's Halsted Street portion a priority.
Still, it's unclear when it will end.
According to the 11th Ward website, the Halsted project will wrap up by Dec. 15 "and possibly sooner than that if all goes well." The city's street closure website has the street closures ending on Dec. 10.
But the CTA says the bus detours will remain in effect until Dec. 31 "or completion."
Other work is taking place at the intersection of 35th and Aberdeen streets and snaking through a residential section beginning at 32nd Street and Racine Avenue and ending at 33rd Place and Lituanica Avenue.
The deadline for the entire project is Jan. 18 and "that's all depending on the weather and how many polar vortices we're going to experience," Didzbalis said.
"The plan is to get all the sewer work in and get these streets so that they're driveable and plowable through the winter months," Dizbalis said, adding that street repaving, permanent road markings and landscaping would take place in the spring.
All told, the project will replace roughly 6,000 feet of old sewer pipe built more than 100 years ago.
Balcer has said he's pushing to bring traffic flaggers to Halsted to help ease the confusion there.
Scanlon and other Halsted Street business owners are upset that neither ward or city officials gave them warning about the project, which falls smack within the holiday shopping season. (Didzbalis said business owners and residents were notified earlier this summer.)
Many businesses are participating in the Small Business Saturday promotion on Nov. 29, which encourages local shopping and gives many stores a major, one-time boost to the bottom line.
Now they're worried that customers will overlook their stores in favor of a less-cluttered commute.
"Small businesses like mine can't handle low sales for a few weeks or no sales," said Carolyn Hennes, owner of Augustine's Eternal Gifts and Spiritual Goods, 3327 S. Halsted St. "A week of no sales would put us out of business."
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