Road construction is a necessary inconvenience that generally pays dividends in the end.
But businesses along a stretch of Western Reserve Road in Mahoning County where roadwork has been underway for several weeks say the price they are paying greatly exceeds just the tax dollars being spent on the infrastructure because no considerations were made for customer access. Some customers even have been turned away by road crews, leaving business owners now fearing for their livelihoods.
No infrastructure upgrades ever should come at that cost.
What’s worse, the elected county official in charge of the project has been unresponsive to attempts to discuss these concerns.
Specifically in question is a half-mile portion of West Western Reserve Road between Hitchcock Road and Glenwood Avenue that is the first part of a multiphase project to replace about 5 miles of sanitary sewer line all the way to North Lima Road. We suspect this problem will continue with the next phases as well.
For now, work is occurring in the area of Western Reserve Plaza, which includes Sparkle Market, Lemon Tree florist, ShipOnSite, a package shipping store, and Risers Tavern & Grill. Inside the grocery store is a pharmacy. Near Glenwood Avenue is West Glen Plaza with many other businesses.
This phase of work started Oct. 31. It’s expected to wrap up one day before Thanksgiving, but the effects of losing business in weeks leading up to the holiday likely will linger much longer.
When our photographer was there, only about three cars were visible in the generally busy grocery store parking lot. A spokeswoman for the retail plaza said Sparkle’s business was off by about 60 percent.
“They’re pretty much hitting us and all of these businesses for the holiday season, and obviously grocery stores are the biggest thing right now during the holidays,” said Nikky Furrie, spokeswoman for Furrie Vitullo Group and Village Plaza Sparkle. “Everybody is cooking, but you’ve got people who want to send out packages for the holidays, so ShipOnSite is hurting, and everybody knows the night before Thanksgiving is the biggest holiday for everybody to go out.”
We were further bewildered when Furrie said they’ve received reports from people trying to get to their store being told the plaza was closed. She attempted to inquire about the county engineer posting a sign stating the Sparkle plaza was open, “but we’ve gotten no response,” she said.
Multiple messages left by our reporter seeking comment from Ginnetti also were not returned.
In the end, the businesses erected their own signs near the road at both plazas.
Less business means a lesser need for staff. That brings a trickle-down effect to a post-pandemic economy still trying to recover.
Indeed, Western Reserve Road is a high-traffic thoroughfare. Certainly, this problem should have been anticipated. Plans should have been laid that were much more conducive to the public’s needs than just discouraging access and attempting to turn motorists away.
Let’s face it, the sole purpose of upgrading infrastructure is to improve access and services for businesses located there, along with the residents and traveling public. None of this work is beneficial if it causes irreparable harm to the very businesses these upgrades are supposed to help.
Frankly, this is not the first time that Mahoning County Engineer Pat Ginnetti has allowed complaints of business owners and the traveling public to fall on deaf ears. It wasn’t that long ago that Austintown businesses and motorists expressed frustration with roadwork on the busy Mahoning Avenue. Requests for that work to be done at night were denied.
We believe road crews, supervisors and especially elected officials making these decisions should be working harder to find compromises that will keep roads and accessibility open.
Why not do the work at night? Why not make arrangements to ensure that at least one lane is kept open during construction, and that road crews and law enforcement on the sites go out of their way to assist motorists get where they are going? Temporary traffic signals or flaggers on each end easily could achieve that goal.
And perhaps the overarching question is why did this project have to be done now — the busiest shopping season of the year? Perhaps there is a very logical reason, but attempts by the businesses and by our staff to reach Ginnetti were not returned.
That’s unacceptable. Elected officials must realize they work for the public — not the other way around.
Installation of new infrastructure and roadwork should not come at an expense to the very businesses the work is expected to serve in the long run.