Ripping Up the Road: An Update on 5th St. Construction

Road closures slow down traffic and businesses. 

Lynchburg is hitting the road.

Downtown Lynchburg has been getting a major renovation as multiple construction projects are modifying, renovating and refurbishing the roads and walkways around the city.

According to Lynchburg’s city website, downtown has 11 construction projects in progress. While not all the projects are currently active, the ones that are have been affecting local businesses.

One of the major construction projects, the 5th Street renovation, has been going on since April and will finish in June 2019. The city is trying to get the project done quickly while staying in its $4 million budget, but businesses are still hurting.

One such business is 5th St. Grind, a year-old coffee shop.

“We’re down probably to half the sales we were at this point last year,” said General Manager David Dombrowski. “Right now, there’s just a lot less street traffic. It used to be that this street was constant cars almost all the time, and now it’s probably maybe a quarter to a third of what it used to be.”

Dombrowski said the detours around the closed sections of the street have scared people away, and that when customers hear the word “detour” they do not bother to come by.

The construction is an obstacle, but according to Lynchburg Mayor Treney Tweedy, totally necessary.

With the growth of Lynchburg, the city needs an infrastructure that can meet its needs. Lynchburg’s infrastructure is extremely outdated, as the city is one of the oldest in the United States.

“When they were digging up pipes on Jefferson St, they found wooden pipes,” Tweedy said. “That’s how old our infrastructure is.”

In addition to new water pipes, the city is focusing on adding a Combined Sewer Overflow system. This system helps reduce the amount the city is polluting the James River by redirecting sewage to the CSO and rainwater toward the river.

The average Lynchburg rainfall is almost an inch more than Virginia’s average and requires major reworking of the drainage and sewer systems for proper management of water levels.

The construction, according to Tweedy, is going smoothly and the city is planning on finishing the project by the June deadline.

“Right now, we’re on time and under budget,” Tweedy said. “The rain has hindered a little bit … but they’ve been able to work through that.”

But amidst the year-long closure of the Main Street bridge, which opened Nov. 26, and the impending conversion of Main Street to a two-way, the businesses are feeling the pressure.

Tweedy said the main factors that led the city to start all the construction projects so closely to one another is the fact they do not want to finish a project and then immediately have to close it to begin more construction nearby.

“It is about timing, funding, (and) about how to plan projects that make sense for the community so that you may be opening a street only one time or digging up earth only one time and laying down the things that need to be laid at that time,” Tweedy said.

The closures have forced businesses to get creative with how they are reaching customers.

Fifth and Federal, a restaurant on 5th Street, has been hurt by the construction but has figured out how to get their meals to the masses.

General Manager Grant Lang said they are taking their food on the road by hooking up their smoker to a truck and going to community events.

“I think (the smoker truck is) a great thing that has come from this and that we’re able to capitalize on that as well,” Lang said. “Even though we don’t have that traffic, go out there and meet new customers and do that so that we can capture them in other ways besides that.”

With the construction just a little over halfway done, businesses still have a ways to go, but they are trying to be hopeful.

“It’s been a bummer for business, but overall I think it’ll be a good thing in the end,” Dombrowski said. “It’ll just be a few years before we actually see the fruits of the money and labor that’s being put into it now.”

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