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Pictured here is road work near the intersection of Markland Avenue and Washington Street being completed by E&B Paving workers on Aug. 14, 2019. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune

Local drivers and business owners are looking forward to the end of construction on Markland Avenue and its intersection with Washington Street after city officials said the project should be mostly completed by the end of August.

But drivers must first navigate a full closure this weekend of the Markland Avenue and Washington Street intersection, which represents one of the final hurdles for a project more than eight months past its scheduled finish date, causing headaches for area businesses, residents and construction crews. 

The intersection will close starting at 10 a.m. Saturday. It is expected to reopen at 6 a.m. Monday.

Markland Avenue will detour through Brandon, Harrison and Main streets; Washington Street will detour through Harrison, Main and Defenbaugh streets.

During the closure, crews will lower the middle of the intersection by approximately 1 foot, according to Kokomo city engineer Carey Stranahan.

Work will include excavation of the old roadway, along with the removal of temporary pavement and the installation of new asphalt base and binder, he said.

This weekend is expected to be the only instance of a full intersection closure. “All work after this weekend will be performed under traffic,” noted Stranahan.

He said additional work still left to be completed includes sign and signal installation, sod and tree installation and final surface and pavement markings.

Everything except the tree installation “will be complete by the end of August,” remarked Stranahan in an email.

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Tar is sprayed by E&B Paving crews before asphalt is put down at Markland Avenue and Buckeye Street on Aug. 14, 2019. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune

Lane restrictions began in summer 2018 on Markland Avenue from Apperson Way to Washington Street for what is called the Markland Avenue Reconstruction Project.

The project includes reducing a four-lane section of Markland Avenue to three lanes, and adding a middle turn lane separating previously undivided east-and-west traffic.

It’s another example of the road-diet philosophy adopted by the city administration in its effort to slow down drivers, decrease significant accidents and increase walkability.

Included is the installation of new storm drainage, curbs, gutters, sidewalks and landscaping. It also eliminates the signal at Union Street and Markland Avenue. There will be stop signs on Union Street.

Markland Avenue and Washington Street intersection work, meanwhile, is meant to “reduce the skew north/south and eliminate the right turn drop-off southbound at the southwest corner,” said Stranahan when the project was first announced.

The bid amount for the project was roughly $3.3 million, paid 100% by federal highway funds, he noted, saying there was also a $300,000 waterline project that will be paid by Indiana American Water Company.

A final contract amount will not be determined until the project is complete.

The project was initially expected to be finished by the end of 2018 before incurring delays that pushed the new anticipated completion-date (minus the trees) to the end of this month.

“Delays included waterline material procurement, a waterline material defect, winter, and significant miscellaneous utility conflicts,” explained Stranahan.

He told the Kokomo Perspective earlier this month that keeping the intersection open during construction has also slowed down work, comparing it to the faster pace of construction seen on Lincoln Road, which has been shut down in its half-mile construction area from Park Road to Webster Street.

Meanwhile, businesses in the Markland Avenue construction zone are counting down the days until the project is complete after losing tens of thousands of dollars in revenue due to the road and lane closures.

Mario Glunt, owner of Ned’s Corner Pub, 105 W. Markland Ave., estimated he lost about half of his patronage due to the construction. He said that forced him to pour $20,000 of his own money into the iconic restaurant and bar to keep it open during construction.

“It’s just the length of time this project has gone on,” Glunt said.

But, he said, he’s happy with the way the construction is changing the street by his establishment. For the first time, there will be street parking on Markland Avenue in front of the restaurant. The sidewalk will also be larger, which will allow him to put tables outside.

“It looks a lot better,” Glunt said. “They’ve beautified and improved my corner.”

Danny Kelley, owner of Arnie’s Tenderloin, 922 S. Main St., said he also likes the fact the city has put up new street lighting near his restaurant as part of the project, but he’s withholding judgement on the whole project until it’s finished.

“When it’s all said and done, I might love the hell out of it,” he said. “I’ll have to see. I’m just thrilled that it’s going to be done soon.”

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Workers spread asphalt at the corner of Union Street and Markland Avenue on Aug. 14, 2019. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune

Over the last year, revenue at the restaurant has dropped by around 60%, forcing him to spend about $13,000 out of his savings to pay the bills.

“It pretty well devastated us,” Kelley said. “Financially, it took me and my wife 10 years to save that much money, and to lose it in a year hurts.”

It’s the same story at Napa Auto Parts, 117 E. Markland Ave. Jon McMath, who owns the business with his brother, Justin, said the road closures have slammed their bottom line and forced them to pour thousands of dollars into the store to keep it open.

“The road closures on Union and Markland has been devastating,” he said. “It has absolutely crushed us.”

McMath said he was fine with the project when it started, but the fact that it’s dragged on so long has taken its toll on the store.

“No one complained in the beginning, because it’s part of the gig. You’ve got to make the streets better,” he said. “But we’ve reached the point where they’re killing the business they’re trying to improve by doing this.”

And although all the business owners are happy construction is almost finished, they all shared one concern: Trying to gain back customers they may have lost over the last year due to the construction.

“I know I’ll pick up some, but people start going to other places, and they get used to it, so I know I won’t pick them all back up,” Kelley said. “Will we make a quick jump back to normal? I don’t think so. People are going to avoid this area for a while.”

McMath said he thinks it will take up to 18 months after the project is finished for business to return to normal. He said he’s hopeful they can recoup their losses once that happens.

“The truth of it is when your business is pretty much closed for a year, people find new places to go,” McMath said. “It’s not just going to magically go back to the way it was. But hopefully over the next 12 to 18 months, we’ll get back to normal.”

George Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at george.myers@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @gmyerskt.

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George Myers covers city and county government. He joined the Kokomo Tribune on November 18, 2014.

Carson Gerber is a reporter for the Kokomo Tribune and can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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