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5th Avenue is back in business

Crews were busy completing the infrastructure work on 7th Avenue between Fillmore Street and Broadway Wednesday. Work has now started on two other Broadway side streets, 4th and 6th Avenue. (Echo Press photo by Al Edenloff)


That's how downtown Alexandria businesses felt Tuesday when 5th Avenue was surfaced with a thin layer of asphalt between Fillmore Street and Broadway.

Both 5th and 7th Avenue have been under construction for more than month. The streets, sidewalks and parking spaces have been closed, making it difficult for customers to get to businesses such as Roers Family Bakery.

Tuesday's paving happened a day after the topic arose at an Alexandria City Council meeting.

Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson asked City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven for an update about the project. She said she's heard from downtown businesses who are frustrated with how slowly the Broadway side street work is getting done.

Workers are replacing existing water and sewer lines and adding new infrastructure and manholes on the side streets. One of the most frustrating parts of the project, according to Carlson and Schoonhoven, was when 5th Avenue was pretty much done and ready for paving but nothing seemed to happen for a couple of weeks.

Schnoonhoven said the businesses have a right to be upset. He said having the roads torn up for so long, especially during a difficult economy and a short summer season, is something the city should take very seriously.

Schoonhoven said the contractor, Mark Lee Excavating, is about two weeks behind its original work schedule but has until October 25 to complete the entire project, which also includes similar side street work on 4th and 6th Avenues, along with reconstructing two parking lots -- the Coldwell Banker lot on 7th Avenue East and the Traveler's Inn lot between 5th and 6th Avenue.

Workers encountered an unforeseen difficulty during the digging, one that offered a glimpse into Alexandria's past.

Schoonhoven said they had to remove old underground steam vaults that were used back in the 1920s or 1930s when downtown businesses relied on steam for heat. The steam lines connected through several buildings and over the years were used for gas, cable TV, and phone lines.

"There aren't even any records of where those steam lines are," Schoonhoven said. "So that's a legitimate delay."

Council members asked Schoonhoven if the city could do more to speed up the work and whether the contractor would face any consequences because of a delay.

Schoonhoven said that the completion date of October 25 will likely be extended a week because of the steam vault complication. If the work isn't completed after that, the city has the authority to impose liquidated damages of $2,000 for every day the project runs late.

The side street and parking lot work is a prelude to bigger construction ahead. A large section of Broadway between 3rd and 8th Avenue will be completely reconstructed in 2014.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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