17th Avenue is in the process of a major facelift, one that will give drivers and local businesses headaches.
Because of 100 year-old water mains under this east-west road, the city is currently doing a complete overhaul of 17th Avenue between MacLeod Trail S.E. and 14th Street S.W. Underground utilities — including power, gas and telecommunications — will be upgraded while the busy street itself will revamped to make it more pedestrian friendly.
Dan Jones, operations manager for the project, says, “The difficulty with any big city is maintaining the old infrastructure while minimizing impact to the current situation. So whether it’s roads, whether it’s water mains, whether it’s sidewalks, nothing lasts forever.”
Safety improvements will be made by way of new travel lane designs, curb extensions on side streets and additional crosswalks, according to the City of Calgary.
A newly constructed roadway will also mean having a new foundation and asphalt surface.
“Knowing that it’s cost effective to replace the infrastructure, the challenge for us in the current economy is to maintain business access, to maintain use of the sidewalk while you’re digging up the road,” Jones explains.
“That’s something that I would say, probably in the last year or so, we’ve taken a more critical view on, because 15 years ago, if we had to do this, we would dig up the road and we leave people to fend for themselves,” Jones says. “Whereas now we are trying to be more partnership oriented with the businesses so that as we disrupt traffic, we do our best to enable people still to visit the businesses and that’s critical.”
While the City continues to move construction up the Avenue, we spoke with Dante Coutinho, the owner of longstanding business Earth Gems, about how he felt the city dealt with the construction.
“It has to be done at some point right, so what can we do?” Coutinho explained. “They told us what they were going to do, they gave us some forms to fill out and they offered a community meeting for us to go to, explaining the details of what needed to be done.”
Coutinho agreed with the city saying he’d rather them do it piece by piece rather than digging up the whole road all at once.
Some businesses are more concerned though.
Sam Friley, who owns Buttermilk Fine Waffles, recently told the CBC that the construction is just one more in a series of challenges small businesses are facing, including big tax increases in the beltline.
"The traffic closure is like the death blow after all these other kind of hurdles,” Friley said.
The current budget for the upgrades is $44 million and the project is expected to be completed by late 2018.
- By Sarah Allen, Cassie Telford