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Businesses Worry as South Beach Construction Moves on to West Avenue

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Anyone who's tried to drive through South Beach in the past year can tell you that Alton Road has been a construction-induced nightmare: snarled bumper-to-bumper traffic and nearly impossible pedestrian access to shops and restaurants.

Good news! The work on Alton is nearly done. But that means the next phase of the work will soon begin on West Avenue -- a street with nearly as many businesses and far more residents. Some businesses owners are already crying mercy.

"The pace of the construction, it's so slow," complains Mishal Alsabbagh, who owns Pure Pharmacy on West Avenue at Ninth Street. "And the fact that they wanted to start on West Avenue right after that? It's a killer for us."

See also: Alton Road Construction to Finish Up Seven Months Early

Alsabbagh opened his business in early 2011; it was only last year that his books were finally in order. "We were kind of doing well," he says. "We were getting to a place where we wanted to be."

Then the Alton construction began. That $32 million project, engineered by the Florida Department of Transportation, aims to address the Beach's regular flooding. There's no doubt the project is needed. Alton Road is regularly underwater and has become a local focal point for climate change discussions.

"Not only locally, but nationally, people are looking at us," said Bruce Mowry, a Miami Beach city engineer. "And observing -- 'OK, what are you doing?'"

But the construction's economic impact has been harsh. Alsabbagh estimates his pharmacy has been taking in about 30 percent less income each month since the construction snarled the area. The business is now in dire financial straits. "We really don't know how we're going to make our next rent, basically," he says.

The new project on West Avenue will continue the drainage improvements, Mowry says. The City of Miami Beach and FDOT will be installing pump stations on West and 5th, 6th, 10th, and 14th Streets. "It'll take time," Mowry says. "We're going to see construction almost through mid-next year."

(Update: City of Miami Beach spokesperson Nanette Rodriguez says that two pumps at 10th and 14th Streets have already been installed by the city.)

The good news is Mowry says the pump stations will soon stem some flooding. This week the highest tide of the year hits, the so-called King Tide. Mowry says he expects the pumps and valves already in place on Alton, as well as a temporary pump at Fifth and West, to keep the street much drier now. (As long as it doesn't torrentially rain, of course.)

But Alsabbagh, despondent at the thought of another spring high season marred by construction, wishes local small businesses had more say in the schedule. "We were hoping they could postpone that project until at least the summer," he says. "I don't know who makes these decisions."

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