City of Casper Responds to Downtown Construction Criticism
Amid reports that some downtown Casper business owners are frustrated with the construction that has currently closed down part of 2nd street, from David street to Durbin street, the City of Casper has responded to some of the criticism and has tried to put business owners a little bit more at ease.
One of the biggest issues involving the construction project was that many business owners felt like there was not enough communication regarding the project. Some businesses felt like they had no say in the matter, and many were unsure as to how long the project would even take.
"Normally, when we do a street project like this, engineering has something called a Resident Communication Plan," said Beth Andress, the Marketing and Communications Director for the City of Casper. "The Resident Communication Plan is submitted by the contractor, and the contractor is responsible for letting the businesses and residents of an area know what construction is going on."
The contractor for this project was Crown Construction, LLC. Bruce Gothard is one of the owners of Crown Construction, and he stated that he and his crew hand-delivered written notices to all of the businesses what would be impacted by the construction work.
The letter, dated September 21, 2021 said this:
"To Whom it May Concern:
Crown Construction, LLC will start the 2nd Street Downtown Mill and Overlay Project on October 4, 2021. 2nd Street will be closed from Durbin Street to David Street with the cross streets open. The sidewalks will remain open for access to all businesses. If you have questions, please feel free to contact Kevin Cummings (Crown Construction), Bruce Gothard (Crown Construction), or Scott Baxter (City of Casper) [phone numbers redacted]."
Additionally, Gothard and Andress both confirmed that a meeting did take place on July 19th that would allow business owners, as well as the general public to hear about what was going on, as well as offer their own comments.
Only one business owner attended the meeting.
"Crown's been doing a good job; they did everything that they were supposed to do," Andress said. "We could say, 'Nobody showed up to your public meeting, you probably should have called everybody,' but at what point do you say 'You didn't show up to the public meeting, do you really have interest in this or am I just bothering you? Am I just forcing you?'"
Andress said that while the contractor is the one who informs the public, the City of Casper did have a bit more involvement, given that downtown Casper is such a pivotal area of the city.
"This being downtown, we did involve ourselves a little bit, maybe not as much as getting the feedback as we should have," she stated. "We did move this project back a couple of times, just out of consideration for the business owners. [The project] was originally set for July and then we moved it back and they did another project first."
Andress said that Crown Construction won the bid for both the downtown Casper construction project and the Centennial Hills Boulevard construction project. Because downtown Casper is so busy throughout the summer, Crown opted to complete the Centennial Hills construction project first, so that it wouldn't interrupt the school traffic when in went back into session.
"We know Crown hand-delivered letters on the 21st of September, and that might've been kind of a shock to a lot of the business owners that thought this project was just gone," Andress said. "We were going to get this concrete and asphalt work taken care of this year. The concern that we have with the delayed concrete work is that, obviously, it can't be done when it's colder out. And what can't be done when it's colder is the asphalt work. [Crown] will be doing a very thin overlay on 2nd Street. And we do have an Order of Operations [that says] the concrete work, unfortunately, comes before the asphalt work."
Andress said that the project will focus its concrete work primarily on the curb, gutter, and pedestrian crosswalks between David and Durbin streets, because that is where the safety hazards are prominent.
"In those crosswalks, there's some really broken up spots and we want to get those taken care of," she said. "That is a safety issue for us downtown, especially with the snow coming. A lot of the curbs around those corners are also broken because, unfortunately, those are really tight and all the trucks run over them and break them apart. So we have to fix those too."
Andress stated that they tried to plan this project so that it wouldn't interfere with daily traffic, but it was just impossible to do so.
"We looked at it from many different ways, and we thought about trying to keep the street open, but it's just too narrow," she said. "It's not safe to do so. When we issued that release, Crown Construction had wanted to move very quickly with this concrete work and they were originally going to close David to Durbin completely, and just keep the north and the south [cross streets] open. They've decided they're not going to do it that way."
Andress also said that Crown is going to do their best to keep specific sections of the street open when they're not being worked on.
"There will be portions that will be open," she said. "When people show up in the morning, if the section is open, it will be open all that day. When they complete something and they don't need to close the whole thing, they will barricade off what they need and then open the rest up. We hope that by leaving parts of it open, that that will alleviate some of these concerns that business owners have."
Andress said if a designated part of the street is open in the morning, it will remain open throughout the rest of the day. If customers are able to park on the street in the morning, they'll be able to stay that way throughout the day. Nobody will be asked to move their cars due to construction.
There will also be access to the streets during the weekend, Andress revealed.
"I've heard from Scott [Baxter] in engineering that their plan is, they're going to do some work tomorrow and then they plan to open the street for the whole entire weekend," she said. "I know that's aggravating and that it's kind of a touch-and-go situation, because it's going to be weather dependent and day-to-day. We're not going ot know what's happening, but we're trying to make this as low impact as possible."
Andress also addressed some of the other concerns and questions that business owners raised in a story posted Wednesday to K2 Radio News.
One business owner claimed that the money being used to repair the streets came from federal CARES Act Funds which, Andress said, is most certainly not the case.
"This isn't COVID money," Andress said. "That's not something that we use. We're not using COVID money to pave streets."
In fact, the project is being funded by Optional One Cent funds.
The same business owner also stated that she believed the Old Yellowstone District parking lot, located between Ash & David and Midwest and Collins Street, was only available to government buildings and after-hours Gaslight Social patrons. This is not the case.
"It's a common misconception," Andress stated. "It is a public parking lot. It's not just for the state building, it's not just for The Gaslight, it's not just for Racca's. That is for anybody who is walking through the Old Yellowstone District, David Street Station, Downtown, et. cetera. Anybody can park there and it's not time-limited, like our downtown streets are. So if you're going to be spending the whole day shopping or you're going to be walking around downtown for a long period of time, we do recommend that you use the OYD lot or the parking garage."
Andress said that the City of Casper has heard the concerns from the business owners and she did admit that the city could have communicated their intentions a little better. But she also said that this project did need to get done, and this was the absolute best time of the year to do it.
"There's never a good time to work on the street," she stated. "Therre is never a good time to do these projects. Fortunately, this is a small project that's not going to take very much time. This is going to be a quick project and Crown Construction is very committed to doing their best to do things as quickly as possible. Crown is also very willing to talk to and work with those businesses [downtown] and listen to them. They're also opening things up as they can, and they didn't even really have to do that, but they wanted to alleviate some of these concerns."
The City of Casper knows how important small businesses are to the entirety of Casper. They are a big component of Casper's economy and the city wants these business owners to know that they are seen, heard, and acknowledged.
"We empathize, we totally do," Andress said. "We don't want to do anything that hurts any business, but occasionally we have to do this work and we have to be the bad guy and we have to close a lane of traffic or a street to do this work. But once we get it done, it will be nice."