It’s not just drivers feeling the strain of the roundabout construction at the intersection of Hwy 16 and Hwy 37 — business owners are affected as well.
Cafe Zesta co-owner Denise Desjardins says the closure of Substation Ave., the main road leading to the north side of the Skeena Landing shopping plaza, has led to a decline in customers.
“I’ve seen quiet days before but not as quiet as these in the last couple of weeks,” she says. “It’s been a burden, it’s been really hard… it just went from bad to worst.”
She says that ever since the road has been blocked off, business has slowed as much of the usual clientele assume the cafe is either inaccessible or closed during construction. Many customers aren’t aware of the alternative entrance at Motz Road further south of the construction, Desjardins adds.
Chef Abhi’s restaurant owner Abhilash Chandran, says his business is also feeling the pressure and is barely breaking even. Once kept busy with lunch and dinner rushes, he’s now only seeing a few tables served and has been forced to cut his staff hours.
“It’s messing up our business a lot… I’m getting quite a lot of phone calls asking how to get here and it’s hard to explain to them,” Chandran says. “Out of those 10 phone calls, maybe two will come.”
Chandran is now worried about staying afloat as construction is expected to last another few months and that the planned free-flowing nature of the roundabout’s traffic pattern will dissuade people from turning into the access road to his restaurant.
“I’m trying to convince myself it’s fine, that once the construction will be done it will be okay,” Chandran says. “But it’s bothering me a lot… I’m not sure how it will turn out once the roundabout is here because how can vehicles take a turn into here?”
Mid-September, a visitor on a work trip from Alberta named Gary Bernier stopped by Cafe Zesta and stumbled into a conversation with Desjardins about the financial struggles implicated by the roundabout. Hearing the frustrations, he extended his stay and decided to take action himself to help the businesses.
Making multiple phone calls to MasTec Canada, the company that oversees the construction, he tried to convince them to open up Substation Ave. as it was apparently mainly closed to minimize driver confusion, he says.
When nothing was done, he then physically moved the road closure barriers to open it to traffic and had the RCMP call on him.
“I went down, removed them twice and was told if I touched them again, I’d go to jail,” Bernier says with a laugh. “But once I was able to get to the right people, explain to them with pictures and everything else about this, they’re like, ‘Yeah, we agree with you that’.”
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, in an emailed statement to the Terrace Standard said the entrance was closed “as a safety precaution because of its proximity to the active construction at Highway 16 and 37” and that “following consultation with the impacted businesses, the contractor has installed a digital message sign to indicate, through rotating messages, how traffic can access them.”
Operating businesses in the area were a high priority for the ministry when it considered the contractor’s traffic management plan, and it will continue to monitor the detour and the access to local businesses, the statement adds.