One side of the Lougheed Highway upgrades in downtown Maple Ridge is almost done.
But business owners on the other side are fearing the effects when work starts on the south side of the road, between 224th and 226th streets, and blocks traffic for another few months.
The City of Maple Ridge started the last phase of its downtown enhancement program this past summer. The project entails digging up the streets, installing new sewers, sidewalks, lights, furniture and road surface on Lougheed for a two-block stretch.
But the construction disruption is hurting sales along the street as small shops try to hang on till the project is complete.
“The lack of communication from the city hasn’t helped me prepare for this,” said Troy Scott, with Maple Ridge Cycle.
He’s had his shop, on Fraser Street, just off Lougheed, for the last seven years, and before that was located along the highway, in the same block.
It first opened in 1967. Scott’s been working at the shop since he was 13 and has owned it for the last 17 years. He hasn’t had any communication from the city about the project.
Scott said the decrease in the number of people coming through the doors the last few months has led to cash losses up to five digits.
The bills are adding up, and he’s already laid off one employee. With the crucial Christmas season coming up, and with no end in sight to the project, he’s worried about revenue.
Fall and winter are known more in these parts for wind and rain, and significant snow in recent years.
“If I could make sunshine, I’d be a busy guy,” he said.
During the current construction, both lanes on the north side of Lougheed are blocked, forcing traffic in both directions to sneak by in the remaining two lanes, often at a snail’s pace.
As a result, many just avoid the area, including Fraser Street, which is one-way, making it more difficult to access.
Scott points out he’s a one-man operation and a single dad who doesn’t have the time to complain.
“I’ve never seen any help from the city at any point.”
But he’s determined to stay open.
“I have no choice. I want this place to be 100 years old.”
Jason Kim, with Jimmy’s Lunch Box, on the corner of 225th Street, on the south side of Lougheed, said he’s lost parking spots nearby, but hasn’t yet noticed much of an impact during construction.
“But they are coming to this side soon.”
He’s concerned the project is dragging on and won’t be finished until spring time.
Harj Sekhon, with Freshii restaurant on the south side of Lougheed Highway, said that the main issue isn’t communication with the city, but how it actually intends to maintain pedestrian access.
“When the city said it would solve the issues with access in the summer all they did was come out and tell us what the plan was for construction. They had no plan for pedestrian access and they still [don’t] have that.”
Earlier this summer, George Niavis, with the Bella Vita Restaurant, lost his entire sidewalk, which also affected his receipts, because the on-street parking disappeared.
Later, however, the city built a temporary sidewalk to help people reach his business. That’s since been removed and a new sidewalk is now in place.
Niavis said that sales dropped about 30 per cent over the summer. Business has improved lately and he expects to survive the project.
He agrees, as well, that having a new sidewalk and street is worth the inconvenience and monetary hit, although he’s worried there might be fewer parking spots when it’s all done.
Ineke Boekhorst with the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association, said that the project is supposed to see a net increase in parking by few stalls.
“It’s difficult for everybody,” said Boekhorst.
But the end result will be worth it.
“It’s going to look fantastic,” said Boekhorst.
Aging infrastructure had to be replaced underground in order to prevent further digging up, she added.
Boekhorst also said that business owners are more reassured since the city started to deliver weekly bulletins, in person, to businesses along the street. The bulletin recaps what work that’s just been done and explains the work that’s coming up.
“So there’s very direct contact now. So, sure, any construction, of course, it’s going to slow down business a bit,” she said.
“They’re doing everything as well as they can, as quickly as they can.”
Boekhorst said there never was a particular timeline because it wasn’t certain what construction crews would encounter underground.
Some businesses have complained, but it wasn’t as bad as when the downtown enhancement started on 224th Street several years ago, she added.
The project likely won’t be complete until next spring, Boekhorst said.