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Businesses suffer as road projects roll

Workers from Homburg Construction Inc., Whitewater, run pipe into University Avenue in Madison on Monday as traffic is diverted around the area. Businesses are concerned about the impact such work will have on their bottom lines.  Photo by Henry A. Koshollek

Workers from Homburg Construction Inc., Whitewater, run pipe into University Avenue in Madison on Monday as traffic is diverted around the area. Businesses are concerned about the impact such work will have on their bottom lines. Photo by Henry A. Koshollek

Paul Snyder
paul.snyder@dailyreporter.com

Madison is trying to prevent major road projects from crippling small businesses, but construction’s disruptive nature makes it impossible to offer guarantees.

“When we did work on State Street, we worked very hard to keep people flowing on the street and into shops and restaurants,” said Joseph Biddick, project manager with Madison-based Joe Daniels Construction Co. Inc.

“One of the supervisors’ job was mainly to deal with businesses on the street. There were weekly meetings with neighborhoods that any owner could attend. We put ramps into stores when we laid down aggregates so that you could still go in.”

Yet businesses still suffer during and after project work. Jennifer Alexander, president of the Greater Madison Area Chamber of Commerce, said a recent survey of small businesses in Madison reported a 68 percent decline in revenue during major road construction projects.

“And because people get into patterns,” she said, “54 percent of the businesses said they do not return to normal levels even after construction ends.”

With those statistics in mind, Alexander said, the city and chamber Wednesday will announce the creation of a road construction survival guide for businesses. The guide offers tips for managing business before, during and after road construction and points businesses and residents toward a new city Web site detailing city road projects.

“It’s been worked on for several months on a voluntary basis,” Alexander said. “Folks were just interested in helping out others. If someone’s felt the pain of roadwork on business, you kind of want to see if you can lessen it for others.”

City workers said even without the survival guide, they do as much as they can to make projects run as smoothly as possible.

Kim Ballweg, the city’s construction project manager on the multiyear East Washington Avenue reconstruction, said her team meets with businesses and gives them up-to-date construction maps to help manage traffic flow during busy periods of work. The fourth and final phase of the East Washington Avenue project should wrap later this year.

“Communication is key,” she said. “It’s not uncommon for business owners to just pop into the field office to discuss issues with me because sometimes just putting signs up everywhere doesn’t help every situation.”

Biddick said a survival guide cannot hurt, but most good contractors and alert businesses already know what it takes to help each other survive.

“Most owners are not blind to what’s happening, and they see you coming,” he said. “There will always be problems, like if you snag water service and have to deal with an unforeseen shutdown. Housekeeping’s a big job, but contractors would probably have that knowledge anyway.”

But not all business owners will buy into the survival guide. Bill Antoni, owner of Curve restaurant on Park Street, said the six-month stretch the city spent repairing the street last year was the most difficult run of business he experienced in nearly 33 years. Helpful hints, he said, likely would not have meant much.

“It was terrible,” he said. “Travel on the southbound lane was cut to one lane and work was also being done at the intersection, so there was only one entranceway to my restaurant.”

Nevertheless, Antoni said, business returned to normal after construction ended.

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