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Why the Forest Hill Ave. Improvement Project is more than a year behind schedule

Neighborhood construction 02.png
Posted at 11:56 PM, Jun 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-05 08:55:53-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A Richmond restaurant owner believed the overdue Forest Hill Ave. Improvement Project was taking a toll on his business.

The project, which started in 2018, was slated to be completed in the Summer of 2020. It stretches from Powhite Pkwy to Hathaway Rd. It is separate from another project on Forest Hill Ave. that was happening between Cherokee Rd. and Gravel Hill Rd.

“I think there's a lot of people in the neighborhood that have questioned why in the world it would take over three years to finish a project that's only a mile or a mile and a quarter long,” said Brad Smallwood.

Not only does Smallwood live in a nearby neighborhood along Forest Hill Ave., but his business his diner, Eat 66, was located along the road too, in the Stratford Hills Shopping Center.

Smallwood said he opened the restaurant just a couple of months before construction began.

“It was a mess,” he said.

Smallwood said since then, he’s had customers tell him they can’t get to the restaurant easily, and he believes he’s lost business simply due to that inconvenience.

“It’s frustrating because the restaurant business is hard enough as it is and if people can’t get to your restaurant it makes it that much more difficult,” Smallwood said.

Lamont Benjamin, Capitol Projects Administrator for the City of Richmond Department of Public Works, said there’d been some unforeseen conditions, that caused a delay in the project.

“We ran into some unforeseen conditions such as utility conflicts, which required some redesign of the storm sewer lines and some relocation of the utility poles,” said Benjamin.

On top of that, Benjamin said some employees had been impacted by COVID and the scheduling of other utility companies, two factors he said also worked to push back the completion date.

“There's more than one utility connected to the boat,” said Benjamin. “So you have to allow times for each one of those private utilities who will relocate their lines.”

Benjamin added that he felt for residents in the area who were frustrated with the ongoing project.

“We would like the project to be completed as well,” Benjamin said.

He said there was still work to be done. Including Verizon’s utility relocation and removal of utility poles.

Benjamins said once that was done, the contractor would be back to finish installing some of the sidewalks, curb, gutter, and median, etc.

“Once all that work is done, he would also come back and install the new pavement markings, the new asphalt pavement. And then the landscaping,” said Benjamin.

Benjamin said they had about $300,000 worth of landscaping plantings that had to go in as well but was concerned about weather and timing.

“Once the summer hits, you can't plant new plants during the summer, because they wouldn't make it through the fall, they would die. So best-case scenario, if we could get all of the roadway infrastructures in and then to have the plantings done during the planting seasons, we could definitely be finished before the end of the year,” Benjamin said. “So the majority of the concrete work asphalt, all that stuff, we foresee that being done later this summer.”

Benjamin added that as long as utility companies could stick to their schedule, the project should be done by the end of the year.

The Forest Hill Avenue Improvement Project is set to expand the roadway and provide a raised landscaped median for left-turn lanes among other things.

“The goal of the project is safety,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin said he hoped the finished product would be worth the wait.

“They're gonna have a new roadway, safe roadway, pedestrian-friendly roadway. A roadway that accommodates bikers, sidewalks, and fresh landscaping that provides beautification for them,” Benjamin said.