Downtown business owners are understandably feeling anxious about the planned reconstruction of West Milwaukee Street.
They have endured many changes over the past few years, starting with the conversion of Milwaukee Street from one-way to two-way traffic in 2016.
Projects affecting this group of businesses have snowballed since then:
Demolition of the Rock River parking deck in 2017.
Loss of additional parking spaces last year at the site of the new Cobblestone Hotel.
Construction of a new festival street and town square last year.
A failed experiment last year with back-in parking stalls between Jackson and Franklin streets.
Removal of the Milwaukee Street bridge and subsequent delays installing a new one.
The bridge removal has been the most disruptive project to date, and city officials are rightly miffed with the project’s contractor, who says the bridge might not open until late October, placing it many months behind schedule.
Now business owners are facing a 2021 reconstruction project. Some residents and business owners attending a forum Tuesday expressed concern about the planned removal of traffic signals and other aspects of the project.
We sympathize with business owners, especially those who say their sales have declined as a result of projects, namely the bridge removal.
But the only thing worse than these disruptions would be to have none. If none of these projects had taken place and downtown’s greatest feature remained its parking deck, West Milwaukee Street businesses still would be struggling. They wouldn’t have traffic headaches, but death by urban decay is a more painful fate.
The hope is always for construction projects to go smoothly, but it’s naive to assume delays won’t happen. Delays happen, especially when the weather refuses to cooperate, and Rock County has had unusually wet summers the past two years. Likewise, contractors sometimes make bad decisions, leading to further delays.
Nobody said progress didn’t involve sacrifice, and West Milwaukee Street businesses have sacrificed a lot. They probably won’t start reaping dividends from these projects until the end of 2021.
But we encourage them to be patient. The gravel dust eventually will settle. Roads will reopen, and the detour signs will be taken down.
When it’s all done, we expect Janesville to have a more vibrant downtown, ultimately making today’s troubles feel like a worthwhile price to pay.