Downtown Ann Arbor has been a medley of bright orange construction barrels and torn up asphalt this summer as a result of the drastic road work being done in many busy downtown areas.
Not long after students had packed up their things and exited Ann Arbor after taking their finals, streets were blocked off and detour signs were posted around Catherine Street, South State Street, South Division Street and Fourth Avenue to name a few. The construction has impacted both students and local businesses.
Information junior Jessica Vu is currently living in University Towers, located at South University and South Forest avenues and said the construction has added some difficulties to her day-to-day life. Vu has a car on campus and revealed the roads were never of particular concern to her before the work started.
“The construction has complicated my commute to work and classes,” Vu said. “The loud construction has become my new alarm clock. I often wake up to it at around 7 a.m.”
Much of the work consists of road resurfacing and sidewalk and curb revamping, but it is the work being done on South University Avenue that has proved to be the most intensive. Developer and city work on the street began May 1 and has been going on ever since.
According to the City of Ann Arbor website, eastbound South University Avenue between East University and Washtenaw avenues had to be closed to allow for water main work to be done as well as streetscaping, which is the designing of streets based on the natural and built fabric of it.
Elizabeth Rolla, project manager for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, explained the goals are to widen sidewalks, improve seating, create rain garden landscaping, plant street trees, update pedestrian street lighting and work on utility improvements.
“Our board of directors selected this project because it saw a need to create a more vibrant part of downtown,” Rolla said.
The South University area is home to many campus staples such as Rick’s American Cafe, Good Time Charley’s and Pizza House. Though the construction has caused some issues for the business owners, many are happy attention is being placed on improving their part of town.
Adam Lowenstein, owner of Good Time Charley’s, spoke about the massive amounts of dust from the site and cars driving over the open pits that forces the staff to wipe down the outdoor seating area of the establishment multiple times a day but maintains a positive attitude toward the construction.
“(The construction’s) just a part of life,” Lowenstein said. “The only worry that we have besides for the dust is is it affecting people interested in coming to South University because they’re worried about parking or worried about dealing with construction or the one-ways.”
Indeed, the road work has deterred students from frequenting the area as much due to the complexities involved in navigating the work zone. LSA junior Matisen Douglas, who also lives in University Towers, has had to get creative when it comes to using her car and going to class every day.
“With the construction, it makes it difficult for me to pull up near my apartment to bring groceries in, so often I pay for ramp parking that’s closer or walk a very long way,” Douglas said. “It hasn’t been terrible, but I walk to work and have been late because different parts of the sidewalk will be closed on different days without warning. I’ve had to walk completely the opposite direction before, adding about seven minutes to my walk, as the detour hadn’t been set up yet.”
Douglas questioned the necessity of the work being done.
“I don’t think the construction was needed, especially since the potted trees, which added a lot of character, were cut down and demolished,” Douglas said. “It seems unnecessary and, at the very least, too extensive for what might have been needed. I understand if work needed to be done, but at this point it seems a bit wasteful.”
Vu shared Douglas’ frustration with the unpredictable and extensive work.
“The sidewalks and crosswalks were often blocked, which meant I had to walk down the block to get where I needed to go,” Vu said.
Even with the potential for improvement as a result of the streetscaping, the difficulties associated with reduced street accessibility of the construction are proving to have some detrimental effects, too. When asked if Charley’s had noticed a decrease in cliental over the past few weeks, the managers responded with “a resounding ‘yes.’ ”
However, Lowenstein is pleased South University Avenue is being afforded the attention and resources that other mainstream downtown areas typically receive.
“Business is slower because of (the construction),” Lowenstein said. “(But) I’m for improving South University. I’m glad they’re investing money in South University, and I’m glad they’re treating (it like) the other downtown areas. It’s just unfortunate that the construction has affected us so acutely.”
The streetscaping is slated to end in mid-August, in time for residents and students who are returning for the fall semester to enjoy the freshly paved streets and sidewalks, and perhaps a fishbowl or two.