East-end light rail construction faces opposition

August 23, 2010 3:46:19 PM PDT
Light rail construction keeps on rolling. METRO is expanding its mass transit system -- this time to the city's east side; but a lot of business owners say they are the ones feeling the growing pains. METRO says it is taking steps to help business owners who are impacted by the light rail construction. But some employers Eyewitness News spoke with say the inconvenience just is not worth it.

About 10 years ago, community leaders were fighting to be included in the light rail plans. A couple of years later, east-end residents voted to approve the rail line.

Now, the reality has proven for some to be more than what they want to pay for.

Victor Johnson doesn't like it, but ordering lunch at Lenox BBQ means going straight to the kitchen. The restaurant no longer exists.

"You could sit down and have a nice conversation, friendly -- it made a big difference," he said. "I miss that."

The Lenox BBQ restaurant is now a new sidewalk. The restaurant was bought by METRO to make way for the east-end light rail line along Harrisburg. Lenox BBQ is one of several businesses forced to give up property.

"It was a no-win situation," Lenox BBQ owner Erik Mrok said. "I cut two-thirds of the building off. I salvaged what I could."

The east-end line is under construction now along Harrisburg. Crews are widening the roadway and moving underground utility lines.

The east-end line is just over three miles, stretching from the Magnolia Transit Center to Smith Street in downtown. When finished, an estimated 8,500 riders will board daily.

"Before it was simply an idea, like we want rail; we want it here; we want all the advantages that bring it to our community. But dealing with construction, it's very difficult," said METRO's Margaret O'Brien Molina.

METRO has paid several businesses for loss of property and business. But several business owners feel slighted.

"Es incorrecto," Juan Antonio Arriaga said.

Arriaga says his private bus company went under because of light rail construction.

Several businesses said they're suffering as a result of the construction, but METRO said several grants are available to compensate for construction-oriented losses.

A workshop has been scheduled between 9am and 5pm Wednesday at the East End Corridor Office, 6215 Harrisburg. People in the community can attend the meeting to find out how to apply for the grants and further discuss the construction.

As for Lenox BBQ, Johnson said he plans to move it to the west side, which is upsetting to some customers because the establishment has been at its east-end location for more than 60 years.

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