By Jonathan Phelps
---- — MARBLEHEAD — The construction trucks and detail officers are no more.
This comes as a sigh of relief for downtown business owners and residents who endured a tough few months as the $4.9 million drainage improvement project overtook much of the area this summer and fall. The project is far from over, however. Crews are set to return April 15 to resume work on a project expected to last the next two years.
Construction crews completed all major work for the winter at the beginning of this month, according to Amy McHugh, superintendent of the water and sewer department. Most of the work in this phase was concentrated on Atlantic Avenue and Essex and Spring streets.
Workers are replacing outdated culverts and pipes to alleviate flooding. Crews had to work around ledge and have utilities moved for the first phase.
”Construction-wise, the project went very smoothly,” McHugh said. “The contractor was excellent. He worked well with the town departments, businesses and residents.”
McHugh said phase one will have to be completed in the spring because workers were able to make it only halfway up Spring Street before the shutdown.
She acknowledged that the construction was difficult for businesses but said the work typically wasn’t in front of one particular store’s driveway for more than one day.
”It was a large trench through our business district,” she said.
The construction made it tricky for people to park, caused traffic backups and blocked access to certain areas of the downtown during what is considered the busiest time of year for many businesses.
“I don’t think a lot of people wanted to come downtown,” said Chet Strout, owner of Chet’s Video & Candy Shoppe on Essex Street. But he weathered the disruptions.
”Our business was a little off this summer, but it wasn’t drastic,” he said.
George Shube at Shubie’s Marketplace said that because summer is “prime time” for his business, it was challenging, but his customers have been slowly returning for the holiday season.
”It was every bit as bad as I feared,” he said.
But he said he was impressed with the support he and other businesses have received.
”People are remarkably loyal, and they really went out of their way to get down here and support not only Shubie’s but the other businesses on the street,” he said.
Deb Pesanti Payson, executive director of the Marblehead Chamber of Commerce, agreed it was a tough summer.
”I am hearing the project had a devastating impact on our storefronts,” she said. “People were shopping less because it was very challenging to get downtown.”
Payson said the town and the contractors worked with merchants to come up with ways to mitigate the impact.
McHugh said phase two of the project will focus on Pleasant, School and Sewall streets, while phase three will cover Evans Road, Roosevelt Avenue and Curtis Street. The work is expected to last into 2015.
While the phases were initially set to go in that order, it is unknown which will end up going first, she said.
”We have a month to decide which phase will go out,” McHugh said.
Both Strout and Shube said they hope the work under phase three will happen this coming summer to provide some relief to the business district.
”It won’t be as challenging as last summer,” Shube said, “but it will certainly block access to town.”
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.