Janesville27.4°

Businesses losing tourism dollars due to highway closure

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Ted Sullivan
August 1, 2008
— Dana Montana figures she’ll sell half the number of tickets for her shows this summer because of the construction and road closure along Highway 50.

“Fifty percent of the people that come here will drive by and say, ‘What is this?’” the owner of the Animal Gardens and The Dancing Horses Theatre said.


“Is the state going to reimburse us for that?”


She is one of several small business owners who rely on tourists to help their bottom lines every summer, but the road construction and detours between Delavan and Lake Geneva are driving traffic away from their shops.


The 2-mile project, from Highway 67 to Geneva Street, started in April and is scheduled to finish in October, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The detour uses Interstate 43, Highway 12 and Highway 67.


Jeff Jetwani, manager of Lakefront Mobil, said the sales at his store are down 25 percent this summer.


“I remember last summer was completely different from this summer,” he said. “That’s because of Highway 50.”


The closure couldn’t have come at a worse time, business owners said, and many drivers are avoiding Highway 50 completely.


“We have such a short summer season,” Montana said. “It isn’t like they couldn’t put that project off until fall.


“I fully realize we have to do road work, but timing is everything,” she said.


Bob Lee, owner of Bob’s Beach Shack, said fewer people are driving by his store during the normally hectic summer season.


“Somebody didn’t care about how it would affect the local economy,” he said. “I’ve got to believe they could have scheduled the job any time but the ‘entire’ summer time.”


Dennis Shook, spokesman for the transportation department, said the project is so big it had to be done from the spring through the fall.


The $5 million overhaul includes grading, paving and resurfacing, according to the transportation department. Turn lanes and traffic signals also will be added.


“Unfortunately, the tourism season and the construction season are at the same time,” Shook said. “So it’s pretty difficult. There’s not much we can do about that.”


To survive the summer, Bob’s Beach Shack has focused on sales.


“I’ve just been promoting a lot of goods, so when people do stop by, they buy something,” Lee said.


But other business owners said nothing can be done.


“If you don’t see people, no matter how many strategies you’ve got, it doesn’t work,” Jetwani said.


The only alternative is to wait it out, Montana said.


“You’re at a total loss,” she said. “What can you do?”


PROJECT DETAILS
What: New turn lanes, traffic signals, grading, paving and resurfacing.
When: Mid-April through mid-October.
Where: Highway 50, between Highway 67 and Geneva Street.
Length of project: Two miles.
Cost: $5 million.
Traffic impacts: Highway 50 is closed and detoured from Highway 67 to Geneva National Boulevard.
Detours: Use Interstate 43, Highway 12 or Highway 67.

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