Increasing numbers of business owners inhabiting the mile-long stretch of Academy Boulevard between Union and Montebello are complaining that "improvements" along the heavily-used thoroughfare are doing them in.
That stretch of road was cited by Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace during her State of the City address last week as one of 12 voter-approved SCIP transportation projects throughout the city totaling $28.2 million. The Academy project is designed to enhance traffic flow along the boulevard by creating additional traffic and turn lanes.
But business owners along the stretch are far less enthusiastic about the project then the mayor. They complain that when street crews showed up in early April to begin work they dug up the outside lane on each side of the street and then all but disappeared. Four months later, traffic is a snarled, backed-up mess that is keeping customers away in droves.
"Business is off by 30 percent," said Jack Hart of Mail Boxes, Etc., located in the Target shopping plaza one block north of Union.
"Academy is torn up as far as the eye can see and all I see anyone doing is shuffling around pylons, barrels, signs and barriers. It's frustrating. Drive the entire length of the project and you'll see maybe a half-dozen people working."
Doug Swanson of Hoover Sales and Service agrees.
"I'm off 25 percent from last year, and everyone I've asked says their business is way down, too," he said. "I agree this project is needed and that it'll be a great thing when it's done, but surely there's a better way to go about it. You ought to see the mess at rush hour. People get steamed and cut through the shopping center at high speed."
The City's engineering project manager, Ken Sampley, said he sympathizes with Hart and Swanson's frustration, but he insists more work is getting done and progress made than the disgruntled businessmen think.
"It's true that you might not see a crew out front of your business for a week at a time, but that doesn't mean nobody's working," Sampley said. "Projects of this size involve underground utilities, gas, cable vision and electric lines. Crews have to be able to coordinate their work around each other, which requires long stretches of road for them to work on, which means lots of torn-up street."
Sampley says the City strives to keep the community informed, and businesses are free to bring any concerns they might have to the attention of the City.
"It's hard to comprehend the scope of a project like this until it's actually under way," he said. "There's not a whole lot we can do to speed up the work or lessen the inconvenience."
Sampley's empathy, though, is little comfort to Mike LaRue, owner of Blimpie's Subs and Salads on the 5200 block of North Academy Boulevard.
"This project won't be completed until April of 2002," he said. "As soon as the new power and phone lines get in, they'll tear up the middle of the road.
"People aren't willing to fight the traffic. I haven't seen some of my regular customers for months."