CUYAHOGA FALLS — With about three months to go this year, a $5.9 million reconstruction of an approximate two-thirds of a mile stretch of Howe Avenue is progressing well, according to state and local officials.
Meanwhile, business leaders along the road said they are seeing a decline in customer volume, but are looking forward to the thoroughfare being fully repaired next year.
Akron-based Kenmore Construction is replacing the current concrete roadway with asphalt on Howe Avenue between state Route 8 and Buchholzer Boulevard, according to information from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). The project also includes drainage, curbs, sidewalks, lighting and new signage.
Justin Chesnic, public information officer for ODOT, said the construction work is running on schedule so far.
"The project is going really well," said Chesnic, who added his office had not received any complaints from motorists or businesses. "The contractor is doing a great job out there."
Although there was a lot of rain earlier in the summer, Chesnic said the project "was never delayed," and added that Kenmore typically maintains a six-day work week.
"If it rains on a Wednesday, they can just make it up on a Saturday and it’s not costing us any extra money," said Chesnic. "They’ve just been able to expedite it."
Chesnic said sidewalks are being replaced at the same time that the crew is working on the corresponding section of roadway. He added that traffic signals will be replaced at the conclusion of the project next year.
The project was divided into an eastern portion (from the McDonald’s entrance to Buchholzer) and a western portion (Main Street to the McDonald’s entrance). The eastern half is being done this year and the western half will be done next year, according to Chesnic.
Chesnic said pavement is currently being replaced on the north side of Howe between McDonald’s and Buchholzer through late October. Pavement replacement on the south side of Howe between the McDonald’s and Buchholzer was finished earlier in the year, according to Chesnic.
While this work is happening, eastbound Howe is closed from Main Street to Buchholzer, while westbound Howe remains open to traffic, said Chesnic. Vehicles traveling eastbound on Howe are being detoured south on to Home Avenue, east on Independence Avenue and north on Buchholzer. Motorists can access businesses along Howe by using the frontage streets that are behind those buildings.
After the McDonald’s-to-Buchholzer work is completed in late October, further construction will be put on hold until May of 2020. At that time, Chesnic said, the western half of Howe will be repaved from the McDonald’s driveway west to Main Street.
Thoughts from city leaders, business owners
Cuyahoga Falls city engineer Tony Demasi said feedback has been "relatively positive," and the owners of the Plaza at Chapel Hill told him they are happy with the progress.
"I'd like to remind motorists to drive with caution through the construction zone, carefully read detour signs, and watch out for the road workers," added Demasi.
Tallmadge Police Chief Ronald Williams said that the project has "surprisingly had not any effect on us at all."
"We’ve just avoided any real problems with the whole project so far," stated Williams.
Cuyahoga Falls Police Chief Jack Davis added there have been "no real issues" and added there are "ways for the officers to get around as well as the public."
Davis said his officers typically spend "quite a bit of time" in the Howe Avenue area and Cuyahoga Falls Police Capt. Steve Guldeman added the department has not conducted any additional patrols during the project.
"Everything has been relatively smooth," said Guldeman. "People have adjusted well to the traffic pattern."
Akron Police Capt. Dave Laughlin said when the entrance ramp to and the exit ramp from Route 8 were closed at the start of the project, his department observed "a little bit" of an increase in traffic volume on Tallmadge Avenue because that road was used as a detour. He said the department did some extra patrolling in that area for a couple days while the ramps were closed to quickly address crashes or broken down vehicles.
However, that situation, Laughlin said, "never really materialized to cause us any issues."
In the current phase, Laughlin said "we’ve really experienced no impact" from the closure of eastbound Howe, noting he was "not aware of any increase in traffic crashes [or] traffic complaints."
Business owners and managers said they are trying to adjust to a decrease in customers while the road work is happening.
"Business is down with it being harder for folks to get here," said Matt Trayer, manager of Play It Again Sports. He also emphasized that he does not feel "it’s actually that much harder to get here," but said motorists perceive it that way.
He noted the project is seen as "enough of an inconvenience that people don’t bother," adding "plenty of people" have told him on the phone that they’ll go shop somewhere else. He added he’s also observed that traffic volume is lower since the project started.
On the positive side, Trayer said his business has "a very loyal customer base and people come here with their kids every year and that helps us out."
"It’ll be nice when the project’s over and I’m looking forward to having that road all fixed up," said Trayer.
Juan Rodriguez, owner of El Papa’s Mexican Bistro, said business was "really, really slow" in the first month after construction started, and noted that since construction began, "we lost probably 30-35 percent of our business."
He said that overall the business has been "hurt a little bit, but thank God, we’re OK."
Rodriguez added he felt the road needed to be improved.
"That road is very bad," said Rodriguez. "They needed to fix it."
He noted that while the situation is a "mess" now, Rodriguez said he believed "it’s going to better for all the businesses" once the project is finished next year.
Joe Fallucco, a manager at Mr. Bulky’s Foods, said the impact of the project has "not been as bad as we anticipated." He acknowledged that the closure of the Route 8 ramps in the early stage of the project made it "pretty rough," but the situation improved after those ramps were re-opened.
Fallucco said his store prepared for this challenging situation by bringing in more new products and then promoting those items through social media. He noted he and his employees are "excited" for this year’s project to be "wrapped up" in the fall. Fallucco said he expects there will be "wall-to-wall" people in the store during the holiday shopping season.
Information on the Howe Avenue project can be found at www.howeavenue.com.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.