The completion date for the 2017 voter-approved North New Braunfels Road connector project on San Antonio’s east side has been delayed by two months, causing frustration in the business community along the corridor.
North New Braunfels, from Burleson Street to East Houston Street, has been a construction zone since November 2021 and was scheduled to be completed this month, but city officials say difficult working conditions, utility issues and weather have delayed it. the project.
Construction began on the left side of the I-35 corridor, but moved to the right side this year, causing problems for small business owners who say business has been negatively impacted for months.
Construction is now expected to be completed in July.
“It’s causing a lot of problems for the people down there [here] that have businesses,” said Robert Aguilar, manager at Security Loan Company, a lender and pawn shop in the 1000 block of North New Braunfels Street. “If they know they’re going to be late, they have to do something. Two months? This can make or break someone. They could go out of business because of it.”
For customers picking up a pie at Tank’s Pizza, only three parking spaces are available, one of which is for handicapped drivers only. Two blocks down at the Security Loan Company, half of the parking lot is blocked off due to construction, leaving four non-handicapped spots available to shoppers.
“It’s hurting us drastically,” Aguilar said. “It’s hurting everything – business everywhere. … Sometimes they close Lamar Street and Gabriel Street. It might not be all day, but it hurts when they do.”
During the day, construction workers in hard hats and neon vests drill concrete into the median turn lane and onto the sidewalks. Some hold stop signs and others drive trucks with flashing lights through the area.
Two-way traffic is directed by signals displayed on orange and white barricades, allowing traffic to flow.
“For the last three months, machines have been directly in front of our building, blocking business,” said Nnika Cleaver, owner of Black Business San Antonio, a networking center and workspace for black-owned businesses next to Tank’s Pizza.
“There is no parking and many times, [customers] I can barely walk to our door,” she said.
At first, construction delays were due to utility issues related to old pipes, said Razi Hosseini, director of the city’s public works department. Then, two-way traffic limited the space in which the project contractor could work. Lately, bad weather has caused delays, he said.
“On certain days, a contractor either couldn’t work, or couldn’t work as actively as they would like to work,” Hosseini said. “[The] the contractor has increased its resources to expedite as much as possible, but contractually, they will run out at the end of May.”
The contractor, EZ Bel Construction, LLC., will be fined by the City of San Antonio $1,150 per day that construction is delayed beyond the original contract date, according to the city’s responsible bidder ordinance.
Hosseini said the fines will be returned to the project. EZ Bel Construction did not respond to requests for comment.
Hosseini said the city does not have an in-house contractor to do major bond projects and that most projects are completed by contractors hired by the city.
“We are very sensitive to our effect on the community and the traveling public,” he said, adding that any delays are communicated to business owners on a fortnightly or weekly basis as needed. That communication happens via email or through the city’s communications specialists, who serve as a point of contact for business owners, he said.
But Aguilar said he, for one, was unaware the project had been pushed back to July.
“They never inform us. They’ve never come in and told us, ‘Hey, it’s going to take longer.’ Or send an email or a phone call, nothing,” he said. “They need to pay attention to businesses.”
In January, the City Council approved grants to help business owners who lost income due to construction across the city. Applications for the $10,000 to $35,000 grants opened in February and were available to business owners in 15 corridors where construction is underway, including North St. Mary’s Street and Broadway, as well as along North New Braunfels.
Applicants had to prove a loss of $10,000 or more as of 2021 to qualify for the grant, said Ana Bradshaw, assistant director for the city’s economic development department.
Submitted applications are still being reviewed and should be completed next week, Bradshaw said. All applicants will be notified of their status by June 2, according to the grant page timeline.
District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez said after the council approved the construction grant program, which was funded by Covid-era ARPA dollars, his office and economic development staff cordoned off the North New Braunfels neighborhood to let businesses know about the opportunity.
“We were really aggressive because I wanted to make sure North New Braunfels was covered,” McKee-Rodriguez said.
Tank’s Pizza also hosted a workshop event on the grants, he said.
The city’s Economic Development Department has received 28 applications submitted by business owners on North New Braunfels Street, McKee-Rodriguez and Bradshaw said.
“I’m frustrated by even a two-month delay, we don’t want to see it be a situation where a business closes,” McKee-Rodriguez said, comparing the effects of construction on business owners to the effects of gentrification. in the same neighborhoods.
Bradshaw said that while the city’s economic development office can’t make construction go faster, it is doing its part to help ease the complications facing business owners.
“Our business outreach specialists are regularly out in the hallways talking to businesses,” Bradshaw said. “A lot of businesses will just contact us directly if there’s a problem or something, to make sure we’re connecting them with the resources they need or sharing information with public works.”
The economic development office is also reaching out to businesses on soon-to-be-built roads, she said, and is pushing for early project completion for contractors.
“We’re really looking to the future to mitigate the impact so we’re not in a situation like we are now,” Bradshaw said. “We want people to know that we are still open and that these small businesses need support.”
McKee-Rodriguez said the city needs to focus on the future, explaining that a sustainable solution — one that does not depend on ARPA funding — is needed to support businesses adversely affected by the construction. He added that he would like to gather a group of business owners affected by this construction or future projects to hear what resources would help them support their businesses.
“We’re going to need permanent funding for the programs, like a grant program, and we need to find that money as soon as possible,” McKee-Rodriguez said.
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