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Wed, Aug. 21

Road 3 North road construction harms area businesses

Road construction work and traffic signal installation at Road 3 North and Highway 89 have been a mess in more ways than one.

Review/Salina Sialega

Rick Bowles mixes grout to keep bolts in place at the base of a pole for the new traffic signal going in at Road 3 North and Highway 89, while Reed Osten wires the actual signal high in the basket on the truck's lift arm. Arizona Department of Transportation officials say construction workers need three days of dry weather to finish up work on the signal, so it could be operational by the end of the week, if the rain ceases.

The six months of road widening in preparation for the new traffic signal has not only been a hassle for drivers – worsened by muddy conditions from rain and snow during those months – but has also negatively impacted surrounding businesses.

One business, Rick's 89 Auto Sales, just south of the signal intersection, even closed permanently and its owner, Rick Nugent, has filed a $125,000 claim against the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) because he said the construction made him lose customers.

Other business owners, Dave Mazy of Mazy's gun and cigar shop behind the old Safeway, Rick Gustave of Northside Tires and Garage and Jean Gustave of Gifts from the Heart in the shopping center north of the traffic signal intersection, also lost large amounts of sales during the construction and have filed claims against ADOT, which scheduled the project.

"It was bad, bad, bad," Rick Gustave said of how the road work affected his business. "Compared to the past 3 to 4 years, this year the bottom fell out." The tire shop has been open at this location for 20 years and Gustave has owned it for the past 7 years.

Road work either blocked entrance into the businesses altogether, made it difficult for drivers to determine the entrance with a long line of barricades, muddied up entrances or cut off needed utilities for several days.

The highest month of sales loss for Rick Gustave was November, when his tire and auto repair business lost nearly $13,000.

Mazy said he lost between $25,000-$30,000 during the Christmas season, the time of year that increased sales gets him through slower sales seasons the next year.

Mazy said he would've lost more money during the construction if Chino Valley Public Works Director Stu Spaulding hadn't made a telephone call to ADOT in December asking them to delay closing Road 3 North, where the gun shop is located, until after Christmas. ADOT agreed to the request.

The Town of Chino Valley is paying for half of the total $250,000 cost of the project, but does none of the work.

In investigating a claim, ADOT's insurance company, Risk Management, questions all parties involved and makes a determination on the reimbursement, if any. Risk Management officials didn't return a telephone call from the Chino Valley Review about the projects' claims.

Risk Management determined that the Gustaves' must instead direct their $50,000 claims ($3,000 the floral shop and $47,000 for the tire shop) against the road constractors and not ADOT. The Gustaves haven't yet filed a second set of claims.

Contractors originally told ADOT officials that the traffic signal would be operational by Dec. 20, according to ADOT Construction Engineer Andy Roth. The project has seen more than the usual road work delays caused by weather and subcontractor problems, Roth added.

Utility companies that failed to relocate their lines in a timely manner caused the majority of the project's delays and low production rates, he said. Those companies include Citizens Gas, Arizona Public Service (APS – electricity), Cable One and Qwest (telephones).

Roth said ADOT officials don't schedule contractors to begin road work until they receive a projected completion date from each utility company. Roth said that by June, ADOT had letters from all utility companies projecting completion by June 30.

He scheduled contractors to begin in mid-August, but when they arrived, not one utility company had even begun work, much less completed it. Cable One officials said their workers could not begin relocation work of cable lines until APS first moved its lines.

"This is the worse possible scenario, but crews worked around them as much as possible," Roth said.

Those delays caused a 50% loss in the production rate of the road crews as workers found other projects to do while the utility companies finished relocations, Roth said.

Citizens Gas District Manager Dale Edwards said he has no record of a June letter. His company records show a letter dated Aug. 24 that only agrees to the work and lists the reimbursement ADOT would owe his company for the work.

APS Community Relations Manager Mike Johnsen said utility representatives meet monthly with ADOT officials and sometimes town officials to review upcoming road projects. Communication between entities breaks down if one party misses a meeting, Johnsen said, and guessed that may have happened often with this project.

A Qwest spokesman from Phoenix said he didn't have enough information on the project to make a comment, except to say that workers completed relocation of telephone lines more than a month ago (early January) and that the company emphasizes customer service.

Nugent said phone service to his business was out numerous times in November, December and January. Auto sales relies heavily on phone calls to credit bureaus and fax service to lenders, he said.

In addition, road widening crews blocked his driveway off Highway 89, at times so completely that even he could not get onto his lot.

Nugent faced additional delays when engineers miscalculated the road easement on Adams Street, a private drive immediately south of his business. The calculations were off by 12 and a half feet.

Soon after, Citizens Gas had to move gas lines north of his business a second time, further blocking entrance into his business.

Snow on top of fresh dirt created mud several inches thick.

"If you drove over it, it come all the way up to the bottom of your car door," Nugent said.

Nugent claimed $125,000 in damages, which he said included lost sales from October to January, investment, lost cash and unpaid bills. Nugent has been in the car business for 8 years, managed the Chino Valley business for one year, then bought it in April last year. The business saw a profitable July and August. Then the construction started and that all changed.

"We were doing really well. I know the market in Chino Valley, Nugent said.

Nugent said Risk Management officials "run you around in circles" and "say they will take care of you."

(Readers may contact Salina Sialega by e-mail at ssialega@prescottaz.com.)

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