Government Street delays leave small business owners waiting

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Despite forecasts suggesting that the Government Street revamp would be completed by the end of this year, the ground has still not been broken on the project, leaving many small business owners waiting.

Back in March 2014, Mayor Kip Holden suggested people would be driving down a newly designed roadway by late 2015.

DOTD officials deny that there have been delays, suggesting instead there is an extensive series of tests and studies that must be completed before any construction work can begin.

"It was never really running behind. It was never a speedball project," said DOTD spokesman Rodney Mallett.

At a public meeting Thursday, DOTD officials unveiled the latest iteration of the plan. The proposed changes would run from East Boulevard to Lobdell Avenue. As it stands, the project would reduce the number of lanes from four to three, with two lanes going in either direction and a turning lane in the middle.

"Once the road is repaved and once you don't have those left hand backups on the inside lanes, it is going to have the same capacity as it does now with less accidents," said Mallett.

Mallet said the portion of Government Street between I-110 and Jefferson Hwy has more than double the number of accidents as roads with similar volume. A DOTD study suggests the improvements would cut that number in half.

"The number one thing is safety," Mallett said.

Other features include bike and pedestrian lanes. A roundabout would be installed near Lobdell Ave.

As of right now, construction is slated to cost between $10 million and $13 million. However, there is not a timeline for its construction.

That leaves many small business owners along the corridor waiting, including Marsha Rish, who owns The Honeymoon Bungallow on the 3100 block of Government Street. Her store is full of vintage clothes, lamps, furniture and more.

"I made the proposal myself 18 years ago at a Mid-City Merchants meeting and was told it would never happen," Rish said.

She believes changes on the road could boost business.

In recent years, she said her business has been hurting. She said that ever since a red light was removed from Government Street near her store, her business has been hurting. She said cars fly down the road above the speed limit.

She believes if the road is redesigned, people may drive a little slower and have a chance to see her shop, perhaps pulling into her parking lot.

"I understand the delay. I'm not happy with delay, but just them getting this far is a huge boost to my ego and my dreams and hopes that I can wait a little bit longer," she said.

The head of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber also believes that the project could help small businesses.

"It really will make the quality of the place get better. If they really spend the time to invest in the beautification of it as well as the road improvements," said Adam Knapp, President and CEO of the chamber.

Others had concerns with the proposals, including Wayne Daigel, owner of Wayne's barbershop near the post office on Government Street.

"I think there are too many unanswered things, and I think we are getting the cart before the horse," he said after viewing the proposal maps at Thursday's meeting.

Daigel is concerned how buses would back up traffic. He also questions whether medians and dividers in the road could make it difficult for drivers to access local shops, especially those located in the middle of blocks.

"A lot of my friends that are in the middle of the block, they're going to be dead," Daigel said, referencing their business prospects.

Even those who support the project are concerned about the effects construction could have on the future of their business.

"If it's hard to get here, they're just going to go on Amazon or they're just not going to bother coming down Government Street," said Kerry Beary, owner of the Atomic Pop Shop on the 2900 block of Government Street. She sells a variety of records and record players.

"Other projects in town that have taken a lot longer than projected have shut businesses down," she said.

Public input for the project continues online until December 30. Click here to find a full exhibit of the proposals.

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