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Blocking business

Some say road work keeps customers away

Some say road work keeps customers away

July 01, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Some merchants in downtown Hagerstown said Monday that traffic congestion and delays resulting from state construction projects are hurting their businesses.

"I do not want to give customers one more reason not to come downtown. And this certainly is not helping," said Tom Newcomer, president of R. Bruce Carson Jewelers on Public Square. "It has definitely affected our business."

Jim Baker, owner of Hoffman Clothiers Inc. at 15 N. Potomac St., said customers call to ask, "Can I get in and out quickly?"

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He said he tells them there are still some traffic delays in the first block of West Washington Street due to construction work on what is to be the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center. Lane closures in that area often lead to traffic backups, he said.

A contractor also has been removing, and then replacing, some downtown crosswalks as part of the Maryland Highway Administration's U.S. 40 Streetscape project.

Baker said customers tell him, "I don't know if I want to bother coming down."

Has the work hurt business? "Well, sure it has," Baker said.

When the crosswalks were built around 1999, the bricks were set on a bed of sand on a concrete foundation, a method city officials questioned at the time. While state officials say that method has worked elsewhere in the state, here it resulted in sand gradually leaking out.

A contractor has been replacing two crosswalks at Cannon Avenue and Washington Street, two at Cannon Avenue and Franklin Street and four at Potomac Street and Franklin, putting the bricks in mortar on the same concrete foundations.

In addition, new brick crosswalks are being built at Franklin at Walnut, Washington at Walnut, Washington at Prospect, Washington at Jonathan, and the mid-block crosswalk on Washington near the Baldwin House complex.

The Streetscape project should be completed by the end of July, Hagerstown City Engineer Rodney Tissue said.

The project was scheduled to be finished in June or July but some of the work had to be delayed because of rain, Maryland Highway Administration spokeswoman Lori Rakowski said Friday.

The state apologizes for the delays and appreciates people's patience, she said.

The goal is to get in and get out as quickly as possible because "We know construction can be a headache," she said.

City officials have expressed frustration that the city gets blamed for the construction work when it's a state-funded project.

Cheryl Kenney, owner of Roccoco, at 20 W. Washington St., said some of the customers complain about what they had to endure on the roads to get to the restaurant.

"I have also heard chatter like, 'I am not going into town. It is too much of a pain there,'" Kenney said.

Amber MacRae, with Bentley's Bagels and Gourmet Coffee, said some of her regular customers drive there for the fare but note that they were delayed in traffic. Others are not coming because of the delays.

Her concern is that if customers get in the habit of going elsewhere for food and coffee they might not return when the construction work ends, MacRae said.

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