News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

August 1, 2012

Work to smooth major city thoroughfare leaves workers looking for old rails and businesses looking for customers

TERRE HAUTE — Workers began digging up the center of Wabash Avenue Tuesday, part of a $1.1-million project to repair and resurface Terre Haute’s main street between 13th and 25th streets.

The project, which is expected to take 90 days, will reduce westbound traffic to one lane and will permit only one lane of eastbound traffic during evening and nighttime hours, according to Chuck Ennis, city engineer.

The initial phase of the work will focus on Wabash Avenue between 13th and 19th streets.

During normal working hours, the eastbound lanes of Wabash Avenue will be closed to traffic to allow heavy equipment and workers access to the site, Ennis said.

Opening Wabash Avenue to eastbound traffic after hours is initially an “experiment,” Ennis said. If problems develop, that could change, he said.

One westbound lane should remain open for traffic during virtually the entire project, Ennis said.

Eastbound traffic will be detoured to Ohio and Poplar streets. Truck traffic is not permitted on Ohio east of 19th Street, where Ohio becomes a boulevard.

Parking on Wabash Avenue will be prohibited while work is under way, and many business owners expressed concern Tuesday about the project’s effect on their ability to serve their customers.

“It’s going to hurt business quite a bit,” said Steve Smith, owner of Ambrosini’s, a restaurant and bar at 14th Street and Wabash Avenue. Ambrosini’s will begin a delivery service starting next week in an effort to make up for lost revenue from the roadwork, he said.

Theresa Market, owner of Pyle Sew n Vac at 1347 Wabash Ave., said her customers were able to gain access to her business Tuesday despite the closure of the street. But she worries about days when she teaches sewing and quilting classes.

“If I have a full class of eight to 10 gals, without the street, that’s going to cause a bit of a problem,” she said. There is a parking lot west of her business, but it was blocked for a short time by a piece of heavy roadwork equipment, she said. “If they leave [the equipment] in the street, then I’m OK, she said.”

Farther east, at 19th and Wabash, Bob Smitley, owner of Furniture and Mattress Liquidators, worried how the road closure will affect his business.

“It’s going to be tough,” Smitley said, noting that his customers will have access to his business only from the alley. “I have a hard enough time getting business from the street,” he said. “It would be nice if they did [the project] two blocks at a time instead of blocking it off when they’re not doing anything here.”

On Tuesday, workers dug up a 30-foot-long portion of Wabash Avenue around 131⁄2 Street. Workers were expecting to find interurban rail lines under the road, but didn’t.

“We’re a little surprised right now with what we’ve found,” Ennis said at the end of the work day Tuesday. Metal detectors and ground-penetrating radar had led engineers to expect to find rails under the surface, but only stone curbs and odd metal ties were located.

“We could still find rails farther east” where Wabash Avenue has more of a washboard effect, Ennis said.

Interurban rail service, consisting of electric trolleys and trains, existed in Terre Haute from about 1892 until 1939. One of the first interurban companies offered transportation from Terre Haute to Brazil down what is now Wabash Avenue. Service would later exist to West Terre Haute, Paris, Sullivan and other locations.

Paving stones that marked the edge of the rails could be seen Tuesday under asphalt removed by workers. Those stones were about the clearest visible evidence of the old trolley system.

Wabash Valley Asphalt won the Wabash Avenue project with a bid of $1.229 million earlier this month. The Terre Haute-based company is using subcontractors for parts of the project, including Dennis Trucking for demolition work and another company to make the cuts in the roadway before excavation, Ennis said.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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