Citizens weigh in on the Molalla Avenue project: Construction has turned this business section into a ghost town

CONNER WILLIAMS / MOLALLA PIONEER  - Where is everybody? The word on the street is that the Molalla Avenue construction project has dragged out much too long already, and Molalla citizens wonder why you rarely see any construction crews actually working on the project.

If you’ve driven into downtown Molalla lately, you likely took a different route than you normally would, or you found your­self slowly meandering around Molalla Avenue on the yet to be finished con­struction project.

Contracting crews from M.L Houck Construc­tion Compa­ny of Salem have been working on the project for months, and there may still be a few more months left to go, said city Public Works Director Gerald Fisher.

Only the east side of the street has been paved, and the road is torn up on the south side of Highway 211. Many people have said that they come through town of­ten and hardly ever see con­struction crews working.

While there are signs up that state businesses are open during construction, the downtown area of Molal­la has effectively been turned into a ghost town, with hard­ly any pedestrian or vehicle traffic going through Molalla Avenue anymore.

Fisher said the comple­tion deadline has been moved out to the mid­dle of De­cember, and that the cost of the project has been in­creased by about 3.5 percent from the original contract figure.

Fisher also said that he is more than happy to address concerns of the business owners affected by the con­struction — but people need to contact him first.

Word on the street

Joann Forbis walked a few blocks along Molalla Avenue to city hall so she could pay her water bill. She said that the construc­tion has impacted her deci­sion to come into town.

“I live on the edge of town, so I don’t necessarily have to come into town, but [the construction] does dis­rupt what business I would do around here,” Forbis said. “It’s made me have to re-route when I do come in­to town.

“There’s no parking for these businesses, and that’s an issue for everybody,” Forbis said. “Today, I had to go pay my water bill, and sometimes finding parking is impossible. I don’t know if my car will be towed, or if I’ll be ticketed. It seems that the construction is driving everything away from this part of town.”

Forbis said she under­stands the city is trying to make Molalla better, but that at the same time, busi­nesses should be accommo­dated more than they have been.

Nathan Klein, a Molalla resident, said he is thank­ful that he doesn’t have to use Molalla Avenue since he walks everywhere, but that he feels others’ pain.

“I can imagine it’s prob­ably a pain in the butt for people that have to use this road every day,” Klein said.

Klein said, however, that the construction has impeded his travel routes a bit.

“A couple of days ago, I had to bring my dog down to the vet, and that was tough,” he said.

Klein said that he sees work being done more on the south side of Highway 211 when he walks through town.

CONNER WILLIAMS / MOLALLA PIONEER  - Nathan Klein, a Molalla citizen, stopped to discuss his views on the construction

“I’m no engineer or road expert so I don’t know what’s necessary, and I imagine a little TLC never hurt,” he said. “However, I’m sure it’s quite a pain for the businesses.”

Carol Clowers said she walks around town almost every day, and that the construction doesn’t both­er her too much.

“I just go around to the places I need to go to and I move on,” Clowers said.

“I don’t own a business, so it doesn’t affect me like I’m sure it does them by quite a bit,” she said. Clowers also said that she thinks the city should send out notices to the people affected.

“It’s nice to have stuff that looks nice, but it seems like it’s taking a long time — longer than it probably should,” Clowers said.

Businesses still hurting

Months after the start of construction, and with pe­riodic closures of different sections of Molalla Ave­nue, downtown business owners still feel the blow­back.

Since the businesses in the strip mall adjacent to Long Park have a parking lot, they have it a little bet­ter than those located right on Molalla Avenue.

But many of the busi­ness owners and manag­ers said that they have seen a significantly notice­able drop in business since the construction began.

Nancy McGlasson, man­ager of LBJ Printing & Gifts, said that she has had a big issue with peo­ple telling her they won’t come in because they don’t know how to get there now, due to the road blockage.

“I have a lot of people that call and say ‘We don’t know how to get there,’ and then I’ve had people say they just didn’t want to deal with figuring it out, so they just don’t come in,” McGlasson said.

McGlasson also said that the city did not give suffi­cient notice for road clo­sures when the construc­tion initially began.

“The day before they started construction, I got a letter underneath my door,” she said. “I didn’t have enough time to tell my customers anything — it’s been very hard on us.”

Since the closures and traffic changes on Molalla Avenue, a small gravel route has been put in to connect Kennel Avenue to the strip mall via W. Ross Street.

The problem, however, is that it’s difficult to no­tice it’s there, unless you have already seen it. Sub­way and Just In Video have even placed signs at the intersection of Kennel Avenue and W. Ross Street pointing customers towards the gravel road and into the strip mall.

Justin Venecucci, owner of Just In video, said he estimates that the con­struction has cost his busi­ness about $100 per day, and that it shouldn’t be taking as long as it is.

“I’ve done construction work in the past, and when they redid Estacada recently, it wasn’t any­thing like this,” he said.

Venecucci also experi­enced complaints from customers saying they had trouble figuring out how to actually get to his store.

“When the city flipped the traffic, there was very poor signage, so nobody knew how to get to us,” he said. “I went to the con­struction company first, and they flat out told me that I should avoid the ar­ea,” he said.

Venecucci said that he believes the city could do a better job of being more active in involving busi­nesses with the progress and keeping them up to date.

“The city just doesn’t seem interested in the via­bility of the businesses; they’re not contacting us or letting us know what’s going on,” he said.

Venecucci said that while he does have regu­lar customers who are loy­al and will come in regard­less of the traffic situation, there are others who are annoyed with the street closures and won’t come in.

Anna Skaggs, manager of Buckeroo Deli, said she also has had people tell her that they have trouble finding how to get to her business.

“We’ve definitely seen a decline, and I’ve had peo­ple say they can’t get here,” Skaggs said.

“I’ve had customers come in and joke about how they never seen any­body working,” Skaggs said. “Heaven forbid they actually work more than six hours in a week.”

“I drove by one day on my way to work and I see three guys out there — two were standing around, and one was on the ground petting the side­walk,” Skaggs said.

Skaggs also said that she wasn’t happy with the tim­ing for beginning the proj­ect. “We all felt it around the fourth of July,” she said. “All the business that nor­mally comes to town didn’t come.

“When it’s done, I’m sure it will look beautiful, but there won’t be any business­es to shop in, since some of the businesses are probably going to have to close,” she said.

City comments

Public Works Director Gerald Fisher addressed in an email last week some of the concerns raised by citi­zens and business owners.

Fisher said that the com­pletion deadline is now around the middle of De­cember, but the contractor is trying to finish before Thanksgiving.

“ML Houck has made quite a bit of progress on Molalla Avenue and have been on site every day,” Fisher said.

Fisher then ticked off a long list of work that has been completed so far, in­cluding storm main installa­tion, sewer lateral connec­tions, water services, sub­grade cement treatment, base rock installation, pave­ment base lift installation, almost all of the curb on one section of the roadway and the sidewalk north of Main Street on the east side of the roadway.

Fisher said that a new wa­terline from Fifth Street to Main Street has been in­stalled, and the contractor is preparing to pressure test and chlorinate the waterline so they can move customers over to the new line south of Main Street.

Last week the contractor installed base rock for the roadway south of Main Street.

“Once sidewalks on the east side of the street are finished and safe, they will move pedestrian traffic over by sections completed,” Fisher said. “In regards to folks not seeing the contrac­tor working, I encourage them to take a look south or north of their business,. They will see the contractor performing all of the work listed above, and if they have any questions about what the contractor is working on, I can always be contacted by email or phone and would be happy to give them an update.”

Fisher then said that he is more than happy to address concerns from business owners, but that he doesn’t usually get them.

“I rarely get asked ques­tions or contacted by the business owners, and though I have about 17 pub­lic projects that I am manag­ing right now, I always make time for business owners and citizens who have questions,” he said.

Fisher said the city has had issues with interference from vandals, which has somewhat slowed down progress.

“A couple of ongoing is­sues we’ve had is people de­liberately tearing down cau­tion tape and walking through wet concrete,” he said. “This slows down the contractor’s ability to con­tinue their work flow be­cause they have to deal with vandalism.”

Fisher also said that there have been issues with the amount of traffic that uses Molalla Avenue.

“We’ve provided detours for the through traffic, but we have a lot of motorists driving through the con­struction zone just to see what is being worked on. This slows down the con­tractor’s ability to move ma­terials around the construc­tion site and clogs the road­ways up for downtown shoppers.”

Fisher said that through-traffic should use the marked detour around Mo­lalla Avenue, so that busi­ness patrons can get to the stores.

“We understand that this project is a big investment for the community and something to be proud of, and we need everyone’s help, patience, and coopera­tion to allow the contractor to efficiently complete the project,” Fisher said.

The contractor

There are no incentives for completing the work ear­ly, but there are liquidated damages if the contractor goes beyond the contract completion date.

“Unless you are in the heavy construction industry or have managed a project of this size, it is sometimes difficult to understand the amount of work that goes into constructing 2,000 feet of new roadway and the day-to-day issues that we have to work through with the contractor,” Fisher said.

He noted that the contract has increased about 3.5 per­cent in cost from its original amount, despite the changes and obstacles that the con­struction company has had to deal with during the proj­ect.

“Construction projects of this size and scope can easily have much larger construction cost changes, and we’ve been fortunate on this project so far. Once completed, this proj­ect will significantly improve the walkability and livability of the downtown area for local residents and downtown mer­chants,” he said.

Fisher can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-759-0218 for questions about public works projects.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., on Twitter @Molalla_Sports, and on Instagram @molallasports

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