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Nederland mulls roads project

“If it’s adequate, why does it need fixing?”

It was a question that one of the Nederland business owners had asked, in addition to several others regarding the well-being of their business.

The answer, as was elaborated on during the public forum for the Nederland Avenue Project at City Hall Tuesday night, consisted of more than one response.

“The problem with Nederland Avenue is there’s not enough inlets,” Steve Hamilton, public works director, said. “There’s not enough flow between inlets.

“If we want to make sure that the utilities are adequate and proper, we have to go ahead and replace them.”

Chris Duque, city manager, said there was trouble in getting water across Nederland Avenue using the preexisting pipelines; therefore, the utilities needed to be replaced.

“We planned ahead. We’re thinking long term,” Duque said in regards to fixing not only the surface street but also the underground utilities.

The pipelines that run underneath Nederland Avenue for water and wastewater are over 50 years old and prone to breakage.

“There’s a high risk to contractors,” Rick Bourke with Action Civil Engineers said. “So it makes sense to replace the lines.”

Both practical and aesthetic reasons were given for the extensive work that would tear up and rebuild Nederland Avenue to the projected sum of $17.7 million.

“When we replaced traffic lights with Hurricane Ike money, we thought it looked like a brand new intersection,” Duque said.

“We (also) want to replace the poles with something more aesthetically pleasing.”

Instead of wood, they would most likely be replaced with fiberglass material, which Duque said would look nicer and be more reliable.

“It’s not realistic to bury all the overhead lines,” Duque said in regards to the power lines running along Nederland Avenue. “But (only) the wires that cross the street, to minimize those.”

“It would improve the look of the street,” Duque said. “Out of the $17.7 million, it includes $2 million to make those improvements alone.”

Duque said that there were no plans to widen the streets because there was simply no room to do so without encroaching upon local business driveways and parking lots.

It would also be the reason why there were no plans to add sidewalks to Nederland Avenue.

“A Right of Way would have to be acquired from business parking,” Duque said. “Those businesses with direct parking would be severely impacted.”

Duque said, “I think it’s important to be upfront with you about what’s there and what’s not,” when discussing the sidewalk issue and why there was no budget for it.

But one of the business owners was not concerned about it, saying people were more likely to drive down Nederland Avenue and shop, rather than walk down the avenue and shop like they would on Boston Avenue.

Duque also emphasized that great care had been taken into considering how such a large project would affect the businesses on Nederland Avenue.

“If we’re even going to touch Nederland Avenue, we have to study every angle of it. We have to do it right,” Duque said.

A working timeline of 24 to 30 months was given for the extensive project.

The Nederland Avenue Project would shut the street down to two lanes and would average a month per block of work.

Duque and those presenting the project said that whatever contractor would be doing the work, they would make them aware of and understand business owners’ needs, such as driveway access to their places of business.

Still, local business owners in attendance expressed concerns over what they viewed as potential loss for their bottom line. One asked if there would be any compensation from the City of Nederland for business lost due to the construction.

Duque said there would not.

“We all realize this is going to hurt,” Duque said.

About potential alternatives, Duque said that a simple overlay job could be done in six to nine months with much less cost to the city; however, that would present its own issues.

“If you do a resurface, you’re not doing drainage or underground utilities… if we don’t do it now, we could be back here discussing it in 10 to 15 years again.”

He also noted that if there is a leak in the pipeline and it’s using an old cast iron line, the construction workers would have to break the street apart anyway to fix it.

“It’s cheaper with the shorter approach, yes; but you need to think about the long term,” Duque said. “You could wind up spending the same now or even more later.”

The city manager also expressed the uncertainty such a project could have on taxpayers’ dollars.

“We’ve had financial advisors project for the next 20 years on what it could potentially cost every year, but we can’t tell how it will affect our tax rate.”

Diana LaBorde of the Nederland Chamber of Commerce expressed the two concerns that she felt were most relevant to local business owners:

How it affects access to their business and the time that their business would be interrupted for.

Duque responded that he and the council would work with the contractors to ensure that they would provide everyday access to their businesses.

As for time, that would depend on the extent of the underground utility work.

Some owners, like Jerry Albanese of Meineke Car Care on Nederland Avenue, did not think highly of the proposed plan.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Albanese said. “It’ll directly affect all businesses on Nederland Avenue.”

Albanese said there were better methods the city could go about the operation.

“They could use an overlay. The old one lasted 17 years. There are different ways to do this without it costing so much.

“The cost starts off at $17.7 million, but it could be $25 million by the time it’s finished.”

Albanese was concerned about his business and the effect such a major construction could have on it.

“Our business depends on car count. I’ve been in business for 20 years and we have a good client base.

“For instance, do you think you’d want a Corvette coming down Nederland Avenue when it’s muddy and bumpy and under construction?”

Regardless of the proposed plan to tear up and reconstruct Nederland Avenue, Albanese did say that his and other business owners’ concerns were adequately heard and represented at the public forum.

“This would be the largest project the City of Nederland has ever undertaken,” Duque said. “We want to continue this dialogue. Our goal here is just to make the best city we can.”

The Nederland City Council has to vote by January on whether or not to place the bond ballet in May by special election. Duque stressed that this was still a proposed project.