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Phase 2 Allen Street construction begins, can't be finished quickly enough

Road construction is marked by cranes, traffic cones and a large orange sign indicating 'BUSINESSES OPEN DURING CONSTRUCTION."
Mike Desmond
Road construction along Allen Street in Buffalo is marked by cranes, traffic cones and a large orange sign indicating 'BUSINESSES OPEN DURING CONSTRUCTION."

The noise on Buffalo's Allen Street corridor isn't the usual sounds of daytime shopping dollars and night-time carousing. Instead, it's the sounds of construction machines and cars on gravel in the street, west from Delaware Avenue.

This is a big project: more than $13 million being spent from Main Street along Allen to Wadsworth. Phase 1 construction is already done from Main Street to Delaware Avenue. Allen Street remains fully closed to traffic from Elmwood Avenue to Delaware Avenue, as Phase 2 progresses.

Reconstructed Allen Street.
City of Buffalo
Phase 1 construction is complete.

This has been in the works for seven years. Allentown Association Communications Chair Jonathan White said City Hall and the neighborhood spent a lot of time trying to get this right.

"I think the reason for that is the amount of planning that went into this," White said. "This was a project that took seven years of planning and dozens of community meetings. So we have the stakeholders and we have members from the Allentown Association, who have proposed the project. It was actually proposed by a local architect who has his firm on Allen Street."

City Engineer Nolan Skipper said it's a rare design.

"This flexible design, where we can move the bollards in and out for each block and take away parking where they might want it and extend pedestrian space or patio space for restaurants or leave the bollards in place and you have your parking," he said. "So it took us a little bit longer to get there, but I'm happy that we came to this final, flexible design."

He said it's expensive because so much is involved.

"It's one of the only full reconstruction projects, the only one we've done in my time and I know before me, we don't do many of them in the City of Buffalo, where you rip up the entire roadway and do all the utilities and go with that operational and not have to touch this roadway for many years to come," Skipper said.

A map of Phase 2 of the Allen Street project now underway.
City of Buffalo
A map of Phase 2 of the Allen Street project now underway.

With the initial section completed, everyone in the community, from bar-hoppers to residents, know where it's going. They can look into the deep trenches and see there will be new water and sewer lines, along with new electrical and communications lines. For some, it can't be finished soon enough.

Casa Azul owner and chef Zina Lapi said it's a race between the changing seasons and the dry and dusty construction out front.

"Thankfully, it isn't quite patio season yet. Hopefully, that gets rectified by the time we have our patios set and ready to do so we can have diners outside, enjoying their meal and not getting covered in dust," Lapi said.

So it's a City of Buffalo project and she can get help, right?

"I haven't seen any help from the city about drawing people in, even though the streets are being tore out," she said. "But, like I said, hopefully, in the long run it'll all be worth it."

Also citing constant dust, Allen Burger Venture owner Dino DeBell is more clear about the response to assistance requests.

"No," he said.

Trend Up owner Giovanni Centurione said, not so much.

"I don't think they really paid attention," Centurione said. "I think the only time they actually did something was when we complained there was no lights. It was the holiday season, got dark out at 5 and they took all the street lights out. It was kind of intimidating for everybody, including us. So we all had to close early. Once we complained, one local media station told a story about that and then they got us some spotlights. I don't think the city really does much until you get the media involved, then they start doing stuff."

His store survived the pandemic-era construction, and shoppers are starting to show up again in the area of Allen that's complete and within a quick walk from the burgeoning Medical Campus.

A large digger tears up Allen Street, as orange traffic cones line the street and workmen work.
Mike Desmond
Allen Street remains fully closed to traffic from Elmwood Avenue to Delaware Avenue in Buffalo.

For residents, one short-term solution is converting some of the community's notorious one-way streets to two-way for the construction. Of course, that can mean losing parking spaces on those blocks.

For one of Buffalo's oldest companies, Rick Cycle Shop, not only was Allen torn up out front, but it was also a time in the depths of the pandemic. Owner Tom said what could be done was difficult.

"Ah, probably not, other than giving you a loan and different parking arrangements," he said. "If they could have done it faster, that's the only thing that could have helped."

City Engineer Skipper said contractors are told to use basic techniques, like spraying water, to put down the dust.

"Our goal here is to get in and get done as soon as possible, because we know construction zone is not conducive to business for long durations," Skipper said. "So the best we can do is get in, get the job done and get out of there."

One essential part of the project includes some selective re-paving so both the Allentown Art Show and Allen West can go ahead on the June 11-12 weekend, back from the pandemic hiatus.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.