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BROADWAY ROADWORK, STUCK IN LIMBO, LEAVES BUSINESS OWNERS DREADING WINTER

Talk about bad timing.

The state was rebuilding a 2.7-mile stretch of Broadway in Cheektowaga and Depew last winter when Margarita Vartanyan bought a building that had been empty about two years and opened the Well Marts convenience store and gas station west of Transit Road.

But with the $9.3 million road project a year and a half old and still only about half completed, the contractor went bankrupt this summer, leaving behind excavations, orange traffic cones -- and two lanes of traffic where there are supposed to be four.

Now, with no guarantees when a new contractor will step in, Well Marts and dozens of other Broadway businesses and homeowners face a second winter coping with the road out front torn up.

"(Vartanyan) has been trying to make a go of it, but it's been a nightmare, not just for us but for the customers trying to get in and out of here," said Well Marts manager Valerie Tills. "It's killing businesses along this strip."

The region's unusually wet summer left ponds of standing water that smelled of sewage, and it was drained only recently, Tills added.

"It was like being in the middle of a small lake around here," she said.

Jay F. Christopher, co-owner of One Stop Service and Mini Mart at Broadway and Borden Road for about five years, echoed Tills' sentiments.

Christopher says his business, which includes a car wash, has taken a 50 percent hit since the road project began in early 1999.

Christopher doesn't blame motorists for shying away from a car wash linked by a stone driveway to an alternately muddy or dusty construction site.

"I lost my driveway access to Broadway for 2 1/2 months last spring, and even after I got it back, they kept moving it," he said.

Next door, Brian Dziadosz, owner of Jade's restaurant and tavern, estimates the stalled road job has cost him half of his Friday fish fry business and about 25 percent overall.

"It's not going to put us out of business," Dziadosz said, "but we're not making any money. We've just been holding on the past couple of years."

"When you deal in drive-in trade, as a number of these businesses do, access is absolutely critical," said William E. Scarafia, president of the Cheektowaga Chamber of Commerce. "Being diplomatic about it, let's just say that from the start, this project didn't go quite as smoothly as everyone had hoped."

The job involves the complete reconstruction of Broadway (Route 130) between Union and Transit roads, except for a narrow, four-lane stretch of the road that curves beneath three railroad bridges east of Dick Road. When finished, the road will have sidewalks as well as curbs and storm sewers.

The original contractor, Frontier Asphalt, defaulted about two months ago, leaving the state to deal with the company that posted the performance bond for the job, said Ben Borruso, construction supervisor for the state Department of Transportation.

The bond company received six bids to finish the project, selecting A&L Inc. of Pittsburgh. However, the job remains on hold while the bond company and the contractor complete negotiations, authorities said.

The project originally was scheduled to be completed by December.

"They'll probably get a one-year extension to finish," Borruso said.

Borruso said A&L has to reopen the road to four lanes of traffic before winter sets in.

"This doesn't just affect the people on Broadway; it affects the whole Depew-Cheektowaga area," Christopher said.

"From the beginning, the state knew their contractor was on shaky financial ground and probably wasn't going to be able to finish, but they told us, 'Don't worry, he's bonded.'

"Well, he went bankrupt in July, they went to the bonding company, and no one's taken over yet. How they've gotten away with leaving it this way for so long is unbelievable."

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