By AARON GETTINGER
Since early June, Blackstone and Harper Avenues and 54th Street have been an obstacle course of broken pavement, pot holes and parking limitations.
Since beginning work in June, Chicago Department of Water Management (DWM) work on 54th Street and Blackstone and Harper avenues has drawn the ire of area residents angry about limited parking and other construction-related inconveniences.
A statement issued Monday by Megan Vidis, director of media affairs for DWM, said the department “completed the water main installation for three projects in the area. We are now working to restore the site including repaving the asphalt. We anticipate having all work completed the week of Dec. 3 depending on weather conditions.”
One Hyde Park resident, Kenneth Newman, expressed vehement doubts. He said: “The city really let down the community. I just think that this has been horrifically planned.”
“The lack of leadership and intelligent people to run the water department so that they have as little impact on communities as possible has obviously been an abject failure,” Newman said, “and the negative impact caused by poorly developed plans for new sewers has heavily negatively impacted our local economy, as people want to go to local businesses can’t find parking places, people couldn’t get on and off buses, they can’t get to work or school, the elderly, the disabled.
“The entire water department plan for the Hyde Park community for laying new sewer pipes in various streets across the neighborhood has just been a total nightmare for the past five months.
“I spoke to the commissioner of CDOT in late October, Rebekah Scheinfeld, and she told me at that time that they planned to be finished in mid-November. And I frankly think, based on the incompetence I’ve seen, that this is going to go past New Year’s.”
At a mid-October community meeting, representatives from the city and Benchmark Construction, the contractor, had estimated that work would be completed by Thanksgiving.
The project was reported to be seven weeks behind schedule at mid-October meeting, which means it will be completed at least nine weeks behind schedule.
The DWM said that construction work is “basically” done, though asphalt-laying is weather-dependent, and restoration work like milling, re-paving and landscaping remains to be completed, which is estimated to take another two weeks.
While a DWM spokeswoman said that the department is trying to allay the construction-related hardships affecting residents’ quality of life, vehicles traveling the streets continue to kick up clouds of dust, and parking restrictions will stay in place until Nov. 30 and Dec. 8.
Other residents are also angry about a lack of communication about the project.
“Before my neighbors organized ourselves to reach out to the various offices, no updates or plans were provided. But still, we have no clear information on when it will be completed and when things will be back to normal,” said Yaping Wang, who lives in Blackstone.
“The construction made the streets so difficult to walk on. We rarely take my nine-month-old out for a walk since it’s dust and uneven streets everywhere. There are so many sand and stones left on the ground around the intersections, it made crossing with a stroller super difficult,” Wang said. “There has been weeks and weeks that the street is just left as it. No workers, no machines, just dust, sand and small stones everywhere.”
The DWM says it has been giving weekly updates to Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) about the construction progress. The Herald has sought comment from her on the matter.