By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
Business owners on Second Street in the downtown area will get some relief now that front door access to their shops has been returned as construction officials for the U.S. 70 project are shifting gears to expedite their time in that area.
But construction will be ongoing downtown, one of the more congested areas of the highway, until at least late-October as U.S. 70 reconstruction project officials say they are only halfway through the second phase of the project, which tracks from Avenue C to Main.
Constructors Inc., Project Manager John Guldemann said workers will shift traffic from the outer lane to the inner lane of First Street today, which will help the flow of traffic around the Roosevelt County Courthouse Square but block front door access to City Hall and the city’s post office.
“Traffic will be moved over on First Street to the lane we just built and removals will be taking place from Avenue C to Main on First Street,” Guldemann said Thursday.
Guldemann said workers will also be pouring concrete the rest of this week and next week in front of businesses on Second Street before shifting traffic on that side of the highway in a few weeks.
Guldemann is aiming to complete the $8.3 million project by December but another state Department of Transportation official said in June the project could extend well into 2014.
Guldemann said he’s combated weather delays with better preparation this time around as compared to last year.
“We have additional crews here that we didn’t have before. Immediately when it rains we’ve been pumping water so it shortens the time we have to wait,” said Guldemann as examples of how his crews have made up for lost time. “We also get our concrete pours done at night.”
Guldemann said workers are essentially complete with phase I of the project, which is the stretch of the highway from avenues K through C, but workers still have to go back and stripe the roads and clean up small portions that need corrections.
“With the downtown area, the biggest challenge is it came at a critical time of the year where weather hit us,” Guldemann said, totaling up to more than two months of weather days. “Our biggest things we’ve changed is working hours, we’ve been working a lot more at night. When we expect weather, we prepare for it a lot better.”
Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Karl Terry said local business owners have experienced struggles with the construction.
“Overall, what we’ve heard is it’s a lot of hassle but we got through it. There’s been an effect to their businesses but they’ve all done extra things to promote their businesses,” Terry said. “It’s been pretty good, not everything’s been perfect but it’s been pretty good. We had blips here and there, but overall communication has been pretty good.”
Terry said because construction has been at the front door of his building and other businesses for a while, people have gotten used to it, though it’s been a burden on owners.
“It’s just a matter of something that has to be done. We’ve had our back door open so people have learned to come through our back door,” Terry said.
Terry said the lane change on First Street will make it easier for motorists to go around the square.
“We’re used to using our courthouse square as a roundabout,” Terry said.
Chuck Abbott, who owns Big League Sports on Avenue A between First and Second streets, said because there is no direct access to his business from those main streets, his business has been impacted.
“My walk-in traffic stopped 75 to 80 percent. No one can get down my road; that’s a lot of what has to do with my situation,” Abbott said. “It’s just a hassle. Most people are just avoiding this area like the plague.”
Abbott said during this time as football seasons across the county begin, he sees a lot of business.
“I look out my window almost all day every day, I can tell traffic is almost way off than it normally is,” Abbott said. “There’s isn’t one person I’ve talked to down here that hasn’t felt it, we’re all in the same boat.”
Abbott said he feels the lane change on First Street will finally give him a break.
“This is a key time, August and September has a lot of walk-in traffic significantly higher because of the sports season,” Abbott said.