The sun shone brightly on a clear, breezy day as Sean Brown typed away on his laptop computer at a table outside the Whole Foods Market in South Beach.
The architect often walks here from his home a few blocks away to work, but lately the surroundings along Alton Road have been a little annoying.
On Thursday, a dump truck rumbled as it moved heaps of dirt along a closed section of southbound Alton, about 50 feet away. Large concrete drainage structures sat nearby, soon to be placed under 10th Street.
“They’ve been building this city for 100 years,” he deadpanned. “You’d think they’d be done by now.”
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The beeps, buzzes and growls of construction equipment have resonated along stretches of Alton Road all year as the Florida Department of Transportation works on a large section of a $32 million drainage improvement project. But as snowbirds begin to arrive and Art Basel approaches, officials anticipate completion by New Year’s Eve.
Locals, commuters and tourists have all dealt with the headaches caused by periodic lane closures on Alton and Collins Avenue, which also has undergone drainage and sidewalk improvements.
“Alton is a full reconstruction,” said Heather Leslie, spokeswoman for the project. “Collins is like a facelift.”
Part of that facelift has given pedestrians a hard time. Small raised sections of concrete near crosswalks were causing people to trip until FDOT recently placed orange barrels and caution tape around the raised concrete. Workers started leveling off the sidewalk this week. The fixes, along with re-striping the road, should be done by Thanksgiving.
Closer to the mainland, Venetian Island residents and workers will have a new hassle come next year. The westernmost portion of the Venetian Causeway — 730 feet of worn-out concrete patched by metal plates where sections of the bridge deck have deteriorated — faces demolition in the spring as the county plans to completely rebuild it.
According to the Miami-Dade County Public Works department, the process to solicit design-build services for the project has already started. The project is estimated to cost about $10 million and will cut off access for about nine months.
“During construction the bridge will be completely closed to vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists,” said department spokesman Francisco Calderon. “Affected travelers should use the MacArthur or Julia Tuttle Causeways.”
EAGER FOR CLEAR STREETS
When iNail Spa opened last fall, it didn’t take long for the locals and tourists to keep the salon busy.
The business quickly built a clientele that helped it endure what came next: As the work on Alton eventually reached the section in front of the business at 1326 Alton Rd.
“For a couple of months, it was a big, big mess,” said owner Phuoc Vo.
He stood behind the counter Thursday and peered back at rows of tables and chairs that were, save for his employees, empty. Although loyal clients have helped him ride through the worst of the construction, the walk-ups from out-of-towners fell dramatically.
“The tourists were gone,” he said.
Business has slowly picked up as the road in front of the salon isn’t torn up anymore. The place was quiet around lunchtime until a young woman came in to get her nails done — his third customer of the day.
A few doors away, Rice House of Kabob also has seen a huge dip in sales. Manager Tony Samaha said he started to feel the pinch as soon as the construction began and the blue road signs were erected to help people find storefronts.
If it hadn’t been for other locations in Brickell, Doral, Kendall and North Miami, the Beach store might have gone under.
“Business went back about 50 to 60 percent,” he said. “Now, it’s starting to pick up.”
Samaha and Vo said once the work is done, they’ll have to wait until a rainstorm rolls through to see whether all the construction was worth it. Success would mean no flooding in front of the shops.
“We won’t know until it’s fully done, and it rains,” Samaha said.
Back by the Whole Foods at 10th and Alton, workers said drainage pipes would be installed under 10th Street, and curbs and sidewalks along Alton would be completed during the weekend.
Before smoothing out a wet cement curb, construction worker Sebastian Balinha said they’re working to get all of Alton completed as soon as possible.
“I think we’ll finish before the end of the year,” he said.
TRIPPING ON COLLINS
Over in the heart of the Art Deco District, workers are re-striping Collins Avenue and leveling off raised pieces of sidewalk as the project winds down.
Mitch Novick, owner of the Sherbrooke Hotel at 901 Collins Ave., said he noticed pedestrians were tripping as they approached the street and complained to FDOT.
During a phone interview Friday afternoon, Novick said workers were right outside his hotel shaving the sidewalk down.
“They’re cutting the raised portion right now, taking out the tripping hazard,” he said.
He said as the construction comes to an end, he’s pleased with the results.
“I think the progress has gone well. I imagine I’ll be very satisfied once the corner issue is resolved,” he said. “I like the modern lighting.”
Even as more Art Basel events move to the Beach this year, organizers are not concerned with the impact as the construction nears the end.
“We had similar Alton Road construction going on during last December, and it didn’t impact us to the extent one might think,” said Art Basel spokesman Bob Goodman. “The administration, mayor and commission have bent over backwards in making sure that they assigned enough police and parking department people to help move traffic along in a very streamlined way.”
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