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Downtown Traffic Detours Affecting Business Owners

April 3, 2006 – A week of rerouting traffic in downtown Charlotte Amalie has caused financial problems for some local business owners and confusion for many motorists.
Besides further limiting parking in the area, and adding to the clouds of dust emanating from the ongoing Roosevelt Park revitalization project, business owners said that blinking traffic lights, unmarked lanes and badly placed signs have also caused long lines and chaos for residents who do not know where they can or cannot turn.
The detour, which went into effect March 27, allows for repair to a culvert that runs beneath the Kanal Gade and Veterans Drive intersection, across from the Ron de Lugo Federal Building. (See "Traffic Backs Up as Culvert Work Detours Motorists").
While many business owners said the repair was necessary, they also said they had "no idea" that traffic was going to be rerouted. "We really had no warning," said David Nguyen, owner of Alternative Beauty Spa on Norre Gade. "No one came to talk to us about what's going on, there was no public meeting," he said Monday. "It just happened one day and we all had to get used to it."
Nguyen said the new detour has significantly cut his profits, which he anticipated would decrease further as Carnival gets closer. "On a good day, we usually get about 50 customers, but since the rerouting started, we've only gotten about 20 customers a week," he said.
"Since it's hard for people to park, they don't want to come in, and they also don't want to walk down the street because they're getting hit with the dust from the construction in the park."
"Our profits have gone down so much that if it gets any worse, we're going to have to close," Nguyen said.
The conversion of Norre Gade (where Eastbound traffic on Veterans Drive must turn left onto Hospital Gade and right on Norre Gade to Beltjen Road) is further disrupting businesses like Daylight Bakery, a fixture in the area since 1983.
Bakery manager Brenda Penn said, "Many of our customers park on the sidewalk and come in for five or 10 minutes to get a cup of coffee or some breakfast. But since the street has been turned into a one-way, many of the parking spaces have been eliminated and it has kept people from stopping and coming in. Business, in short, has been dead."
Penn said business owners in the area attended a meeting about the detour last September at Charlotte Amalie High School. She said that at the meeting she told representatives from the Transportation Division of the Public Works Department that residents should be given five-to-10 minutes to park, so they can stop into the stores or "take a minute to walk their kids into school."
She said, "I thought that the crews should be working around the clock so the project could go faster – because we were told that it's supposed to take about three months to finish, and that's a really long time. They didn't take any of our concerns into consideration, however. And now people are afraid to park out here because there are police officers standing on the street giving out $25 tickets, and yelling at anyone pulling onto the sidewalk."
Penn added, "And I know the officers are just as frustrated by the situation, but they're not handling it well."
"It's because we're exhausted," said one traffic officer, who did not want to be named, when approached Monday morning. She added that some of the traffic officers have been directing traffic in the area from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. without a break, and standing in the sun, "without water, or even a chance to go to the bathroom."
Another concern for business owners is the lack of road signs in the area indicating which streets are parts of the detour. Penn said the signs that have been installed are either not visible, or have been placed in inconvenient spots, so residents are unable to tell which roads are open or closed.
"The signs are not helping at all," she said. "In fact, in some places there are no signs at all, until you hit a street that you're not supposed to be turning onto. Then, when you turn around, you may hit another street that's been rerouted, or you may have to go all the way around by Pueblo in Long Bay and come down the Waterfront. It's frustrating."
Penn also said, "The streets that have been made into one ways, but have two lanes turning in opposite directions, are not marked – that is, there's no division in the middle of the road indicating that there should be two lanes, so residents are just making one single line, and holding up traffic because they don't know where they can turn." As an example, Penn said that there are "no turning" signs placed on one side of the Norre Gade and Beltjen Road intersection, but not on the other, causing many residents to turn onto the now one-way street.
"It's like – where do you drive?" she said. "How do you know where to go?"
Public Works Commissioner George W. Phillips said in a phone interview Monday afternoon that since the signs are posing a problem for residents, a staff member from the Transportation Division would continue to monitor the area and look into placing signs "on streets leading to main routes so residents are always aware of where they should be going."
Phillips said that the contractor, Brian Chick Construction Inc, "indicated that they would not be working 24 hours a day" to finish the project. "Because of the lighting position at night, the error rate is very high and the crews would have to go back during the day to correct their work," he said.
"So, what we plan to do is work right up until the busy season for Carnival, then we'll halt the project until the activities have finished, and when we resume, we'll ask the contractor to extend work hours as early as possible during the morning and as late as possible during the evening."
Phillips added that he anticipates the project will be finished earlier than the 90 days stipulated in the contract, because the department has to "gear up" for other road development projects.

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