Volume 75, Number 23 | Oct. 26 - Nov. 01, 2005

Villager photo by Tequila Minsky

Representatives of the Department of Design and Construction and engineers gave project details and answered questions at Oct. 27 forum.

Digging for information on Houston Street big dig

By Tequila Minsky

Residents and local merchants learned more about the Houston Street reconstruction project at a public forum held last Thursday at the A.I.A. center on LaGuardia Place The purpose of the forum was to address community concerns about the project, which started this summer and is slated to be completed by spring 2008, reconstructing Houston Street from West Street to the Bowery. The work will include the removal of old trolley tracks and replacement of a 48-inch water main that was installed in the late 18th century, “at the time of Alexander Hamilton,” as one speaker at the forum put it.

District 1 Councilmember Alan Gerson, who represents the areas that are being impacted: Soho, Noho, the Washington Square area and the South Village, called the meeting in conjunction with the city Department of Design and Construction. Engineers for the project were present at the forum.

The project is slated to take three years and is planned in three phases. Phase I, from West Street to Sixth Avenue, has begun and is to be completed by November 2006. Phase II, from Sixth Avenue to Broadway, is scheduled to be completed by August 2007. Phase III, from Broadway to Bowery, will be under construction from August 2007 until May 2008.

For relief to businesses, work will not take place during the Christmas holiday season.

For the most part, construction will take place during the day, from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Community members voiced concerns about early-morning noise at the construction sites, including assembling of workers and warming up machinery prior to 7 a.m. in the winter. Of particular concern was noise when construction takes place all night when working on the intersections both weekdays and weekends.

It’s to be expected that a project of this nature will result in disruptions. Bus stops will be temporarily relocated. Streets will be closed. Notification signs will be posted on buildings at least one day prior to water interruptions. The project is taking specific action toward rodent abatement.

Gerson sponsored a bill that became law requiring low-sulfur diesel fuel for construction equipment for cleaner emissions, and this is one of the first major projects that must adhere to this law.

The councilmember said he is particularly concerned about persons with special needs and health needs and will work with them in cases where utility disruption might be critical. He said he’ll also keep on top of street-access conditions and how lack of access might affect the elderly or very young.

Noise, dust (which will be watered down), traffic and water service interruption were also concerns voiced by the community the meeting. Of particular interest were issues of communication interruptions, since many Village, Noho and Soho residents work from home and depend on phone and Internet service. John Pusz, D.D.C. deputy commissioner of infrastructure, admitted that underground is a “spaghetti” of lines in which they don’t know what’s what until they open the ground. Utility representatives will be on site during construction.

The first, most visible signs of the project are the protective wooden cages built around the trees on the medians and sidewalks on Houston Street. A tree consultant is also part of the project’s staff.

Sybil R. Dobson, director of community outreach for D.D.C., moderated the town hall meeting. While Gerson called Dobson a professional “working with us to protect our community,” he added that “we must be vigilant to protect livability.”

Karen Flores, D.D.C. community construction liaison, is the go-to woman for any project-related inquiries or concerns from the community and can be reached at 212-337-3594. Anyone can subscribe to an e-mail list at http://www.houston.outreachny.com to get information on the construction schedule and daily updates via e-mail.

Zella Jones, chairperson of Noho Neighborhood Association, commented, “I am very encouraged that the city is becoming more proactive regarding large-scale projects. We were contacted by Councilman Gerson’s office to bring people for this discussion and came with very positive expectations. The attitude was ‘We’re here to work with you.’ This was an opportunity to raise concerns.

“Houston Street does need work,” Jones continued. “Its construction and aesthetics are abominable. What once was not residential now has a vast population of people who live here not to mention all the tourists. Local traffic is enormous. I am very concerned about traffic and signage for road blockage.”

The Department of Transportation did not have a representative at the meeting.

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