Uneasy Street 

How many Metro employees does it take to screw in a streetlamp?

Joe Edwards isn't a man who's quick to anger -- if Blueberry Hill burned down tomorrow, he'd probably pass out cookies to firefighters and observe what a fine day it is to battle a blaze. But even Mister Nice Guy can only take so much.

Metro has managed to draw at least a teensy bit of wrath from Edwards -- and considerably more from other business owners who are upset by the transit agency's delays in finishing a Delmar Boulevard streetscape project on the east end of the Loop. As government work goes, installing new sidewalks, parking meters, streetlights and planting boxes along a few blocks isn't a big deal, just a $2.5 million drop in a bucket for an agency with an annual budget of $825 million.

Metro broke ground this past May, promising the project would be done by fall. It still isn't finished. But the situation is considerably better today than it was during the Christmas shopping season, when contractors tore out sidewalks in front of businesses and dug a trench that essentially acted as a moat preventing anyone from entering. The business owners, many of whom had only recently moved in and were banking on the holiday bounty -- begged Metro to postpone the digging until after the holidays, but the transit agency wouldn't budge, saying holding off would delay completion. Almost as soon as the concrete was broken up, bad weather set in (as is often the case in winter) -- and work shut down entirely.

Metro spokeswoman Adella Jones says postponing the trench-digging would have led to a $60,000 cost overrun. As for the overall project, she blames the holdup on unexpected problems with sewers and other utilities.

That doesn't hold water with Edwards, who managed to get his $7 million Pageant theater built in less than a year. "Feel free to scratch your head," he says. "They sent out one letter where they were blaming us who were fixing up buildings, saying our construction crews caused delays. That's really not a reasonable thing for them to say. If they had completed everything in the time that they had proposed, our crews wouldn't have been a factor at all."

St. Louis Alderwoman Lyda Krewson, who has written several letters to Metro on behalf of merchants in her 28th Ward, says the situation has been frustrating. "This project would have been much easier to build if it had been done on schedule, because then we wouldn't have had the businesses there," she says. Still, she's trying to stay positive. The project is nearly complete, she notes, and it will be beautiful once it's done.

That will be sometime in June, when Metro expects to install streetlamps. Why so long till the lamps go in? Though planning on the project began three years ago, Metro didn't order the lights until a few weeks ago.

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