Seemingly chronic construction — ripping up streets, causing detours, and just overall nuisance — often blamed on Con Edison extends beyond Johnson Avenue. Having snaked over to Riverdale Avenue, it’s been more bothersome for some local businesses than others.
Rebecca Spelman, for example, says her Mexican hotspot Carlos & Gabby’s hasn’t really been affected.
But with backhoe loaders and construction trucks barreling down the streets, some stores further north say the racket may have dented the bottom line.
Sophia Chen, who works at the Golden Phoenix Chinese restaurant not far from Carlos & Gabby’s, said one of her co-workers had trouble hearing customer phone orders.
“It made it more hard for parking, and it backed up traffic,” Chen said. “But other than that, it wasn’t a big deal.”
The parking squeeze is an issue Community Board 8 traffic and transportation committee chair Dan Padernacht wants to fix.
“Our committee asks contactors to limit restrictions on parking to the greatest extent in our community,” Padernacht said.
When it comes to projects like the one affecting Johnson and Riverdale avenues, Padernacht believes in making site visits to work out how these projects can create as few inconveniences as possible.
“Whenever an issue is raised about a contractor unnecessarily taking up parking, we normally act pretty quickly once we’re made aware of the issue,” he said.
With her air-conditioner humming, Betsy Friedman — who lives across the street from P.S. 81 Robert J. Christen School — doesn’t hear the construction, but still finds it concerning, especially for travel and children.
“We have a lot of congestion,” Friedman said. “It’s scary because it’s more than usual, and Riverdale Avenue is busy itself. It took me 15 minutes to go from the light at Riverdale Avenue on 254th heading to 256th. That’s a two-minute drive.”
Friedman also noticed double- and triple-parking while out and about, causing her to wish ConEd had given more of a heads-up.
“No one really knew about it, and one day construction started,” Friedman said. “I called ConEd and they told me they’d finish when the work was done. I called 311 and they said the middle of November. That’s not really fair. They should be telling the residents and those who work in the community that the work is going to be extended.”
U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel said he was outraged at what appeared to be an utter lack of communication between the city’s transportation department and ConEd after learning the utility tore up streets along a strip of Johnson Avenue that DOT repaved just weeks before.
“It seems ludicrous to me that DOT would pave over the roadway, then allow Con Edison to dig up their work just weeks later,” Engel wrote in a Sept. 17 letter to Bronx DOT commissioner Nivardo Lopez.
If it had been an emergency, Engel said, it might be more understandable. But it appeared to be a re-piping project, and “could have been planned and approved without destroying millions of dollars of work.”
What further irked Engel is that the work he attributed to ConEd reportedly was done during the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Jewish holidays, when many residents can’t move their cars for religious reasons.
“This is an unnecessary hardship for many observant New Yorkers and should have been better thought out,” Engel wrote.
DOT didn’t return multiple requests for comment, or provide costs for repaving.
Resurfacing cost the city an average of $195,000 per lane mile in 2015, according to published reports. Johnson Avenue, between West 236th and West 238th, is just a tenth of a mile, meaning the cost was likely just a fraction of that.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz called the conundrum “infuriating.”
“There is apparently no coordination between DOT and Con Edison,” Dinowitz said, adding he and Councilman Andrew Cohen have convened with DOT and ConEd about the utility company’s work around the neighborhood. “A lot of time and money was wasted. We’re not talking about millions of dollars, but we’re not talking about just a few thousand dollars, either.”
But ConEd spokesman Allan Drury said he found no record of his utility completing work in the area around West 238th and Johnson over the past month.
Ian Michaels, spokesman for the city’s design and construction department, said DDC is managing the project for the environmental protection department, which identified the need to replace old sewers and water mains in the area.
“Once work is done, the streets will be restored curb to curb,” Michaels said.
This particular capital project is on West 238th from Johnson to Riverdale avenues, according to DDC, while any work on Johnson Avenue itself is separate work that ConEd is paying the contractor for and isn’t required for the capital project to proceed.
The overall DDC project is $16.4 million, covering several streets in the neighborhood, and scheduled to be completed in Spring 2020.
The real issue seems to stem less from incessant construction itself but from lack of transparency from the agency that issues street work permits — the city’s transportation department.
“This issue has been going for the past 10 years,” Padernacht said. “The residents of our community have a right to be upset when a newly paved street is being ripped up within a matter of weeks.”
As for current projects, ConEd is doing what’s referred to as “interference work” — moving below-ground utilities so the city’s design and construction department can begin work replacing water mains, Padernacht said.
On Johnson, between West 235th and West 236th streets, DOT is installing new curb cuts, he added. “In order to do so, they have dug up the newly resurfaced street.”
Despite the construction chaos, Friedman understands the construction work must be completed.
“We understand that they have a job to do, and it would be really great if we had a better timeline so we were better prepared and knew how long it would take,” Friedman said. “When it’s done it will be a lot easier to maneuver around the streets.”