Last Summer, when construction on the 100 Block of Gay Street was getting into full swing, I wrote that “the attitude I get from most of my neighbors seems to be of the grin-and-bear-it variety.” After over a year of ongoing jackhammering, digging, filling, demolition, drilling, re-digging, re-filling, and dust (lots and lots of dust), nobody’s grinning anymore. To be frank, some people aren’t bearing it that well either. A recent Facebook post from one of my neighbors read: “Is it legal for the jackhammering to begin at 6 a.m.? I think there will be angry phone calls when the city opens for business in two hours. Maybe they get to sleep longer than the 100 block.” The post is indicative of how consideration for the block’s residents has eroded over the past few months.
At the first meeting I attended for the project, the closest any public official would come to offering a time frame for completion was “at least 18 months.” That prediction was for the fast-track option chosen to completely shut down the street, rather than keeping it open and phasing the construction. The decision meant that for the hundreds of people who had made the area home during downtown’s residential upswing, living around a construction zone was about to become a part of daily life again. Some of those who recalled the rebuilding of the viaduct a few years earlier decided to move. Others braced and cringed.
In the early months, much of the work took the form of digging up the street, tearing out old water, sewer, electrical and communications lines and installing new ones. Despite being commonly referred to as a streetscape project, cosmetics were really a secondary factor. Replacing the block’s infrastructure—a consequence of decades of deferred maintenance—was the primary need. Our crumbling sidewalks were only the tip of the iceberg on a block that it seemed the city turned its back on even as it became the arts and residential center. To get to what was underneath, everything on top had to go.
For a while, the disruptions du jour to those who live or owned businesses on the block came in the form of notices that various utility services would be interrupted for periods. That, and the now familiar thumping of jackhammers as crews broke up and removed tons of pavement and rock. A chain link fence lined the street, and the old sidewalks and newly marked pathways were maintained to accommodate foot traffic. Most of the work was going on underground.
But nowadays, two factors have combined that have marked a significant change in conditions. First, the work has come to the surface. The old sidewalk, much of which is hollow underneath, is finally being jackhammered away and replaced. Second, a goal for completion in August is looming. The combination of those two factors has changed construction from something you see and hear into something you wipe off your countertops and step in every day.
I knew things had taken a turn when, a few weeks ago, I walked out to find that there was no clear pathway away from my building. Fences blocked both directions. Eventually, there was no sidewalk to walk onto at all, and no obvious pathways. It had gotten to where I left in the morning and returned to find that path I’d taken off the block was completely blocked or had been obliterated. Coming home in the evenings I felt like I was part of some experiment, looking for my front door the way rats in a maze look for their cheese. A few days ago I used a fence post to steady myself as I picked footholds to climb down into what used to be the street. I wandered across undulating gravel in sandals and shorts amid an army of workmen in steel-toed boots and hardhats as a backhoe’s bucket swung within reach, trying to locate a clear path toward Summit Hill Drive.
In an effort to make the August deadline, it seems that time has become too precious to be wasted on concern for those who live here. Getting the job done seems the only focus. To be clear, no one—not the construction firm, nor the city officials who have made this their focus over the past several months—wants to see this project finished sooner than those of us whose lives and homes have been disrupted by it. But it’s time to revive the consideration to residents of the block, once so evident, that seems to been hauled away with the debris.
The foundation of a broad new sidewalk now sprawls out in front of my building and I squint my eyes to try to make it look like the artist renderings and architectural drawings I first laid eyes on a few years back. Or maybe I’m just squinting against another rolling cloud of dust.