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Kirby storm drain construction update

Times are tough all over for retailers. They’re especially tough when the street you’re on is all torn up.

The four-phase project to install new storm drainage along Kirby Drive started in 2004. The latest round peeled back the asphalt at the intersection with Tangley in April and is inching its way toward Bissonnet. City officials expect the phase to be complete by next August.

Shops and strip malls along Kirby have become temporary islands until asphalt isthmuses appear wherever the road is peeled up and put back in place.

On a recent Wednesday, a neon sign glowed “Open” in the window of a Subway franchise, its empty parking lot surrounded by a moat of torn pavement. Farther south, Shipley’s is accessible, but the Starbucks across the street isn’t. To get there, you’d have to make a left turn three blocks later and then double back on the side road where, earlier that day, a truck got tangled in electrical lines and knocked out power to an office building.

At Cova, a high-end wine shop, owner Monsterville Horton IV watched the confluence of three Cats gouging out the intersection of Kirby and Quenby, where traffic alternately stopped and lurched forward.

I just want to interrupt here to say that “Monsterville Horton IV” is easily the best name I’ve ever heard in my life. No wonder he’s Monsterville IV – I’d want to pass that name onto my son as well. Oh, I think “Monsterville Horton” would make a great band name, too.

Still, business owners who remember Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 don’t take issue with the reason for the construction.

“It’s going to save us a lot of hassle and headache,” said Aubrey Mendonca, who owns the Perimeter Gallery, an arts and framing store on Rice Boulevard. “I’m one of the highest-elevated stores in the Village, and I had a foot of water from Allison.”

Mendonca doesn’t fault city engineers for the pace of construction: They’re going as fast as they can, he says.

Public works spokesman Alvin Wright says the city has done what it could to accommodate commerce, including promising to halt construction between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“That’s one of the biggest seasons for the Village,” Mendonca said. “They’ve kept us in mind.”

And he doesn’t think construction alone will be fatal to any Rice Village businesses.

“We did see a few businesses fold because of the economy, but I don’t think it’s a danger of the construction.”

I have to say, I agree that the pace of the construction has been as quick as you could reasonably expect. You can literally see the progress if you drive through the area with any regularity. And in an odd way, I think the traffic on Kirby isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. At least, that’s the case headed southbound; the line of traffic to get through the light at Sunset headed northbound is much longer. I think there’s a Yogi Berra-ish “nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded” effect at play here – I try to take Shepherd/Greenbriar (where there’s now construction blocking a lane of traffic just south of Sunset) or Buffalo Speedway when I can – which surely contributes to the merchants’ lack of business. But it is moving along, and perhaps these businesses’ experience can provide a little hope for those whose shops are along the coming light rail routes. If this is survivable, in this economy, anything is.

Anyway. The status of Kirby Drive, both here and north of the Southwest Freeway, was a subject of discussion in my interview with Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, as all of this is in District C. Give it a listen if you haven’t already.

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