While businesses in the heart of downtown Johnson City deal with monthlong construction delays and inadvertent flooding, some on the city’s outskirts are being affected by roadwork of their own.
Along the Tenn. Highway 36 corridor, specifically in the Oak Grove community where North Roan Street becomes the Kingsport Highway, creeping construction has made it difficult for customers to reach businesses.
“I’ve been here for 25 years now, and last month was the worst we’ve ever had,” Sims Hardwood Flooring owner Bobby Sims said Tuesday as a track hoe clattered down the street in front of his business. “People can’t get here from Kingsport or Johnson City, and I’ve had people tell me that they just don’t come by because they don’t want to wait sitting in traffic for 10, 20 minutes.”
Sims said work started affecting travel times near his shop more than a year ago, but when the heavy equipment crept in and started tearing up the stretch of road immediately in front of the business, he saw a $50,000 dip in sales.
“I’ve been working later at night and on Saturdays to make up for the losses,” he said. “I try to get in whenever I can when they aren’t working.”
Just down the road, at Boones Creek Starter & Alternator, owner Rob Tipton said construction vehicles frequently block his mailbox and entrance, meaning he can’t collect mailed in payments or attract new customers.
“Some people have had to park at the gas station and walk down the hill to get here,” Tipton said. “They did their best to try to give a path through, but I’ve been having maybe one or two customers a day. It seems like they could do a little better.”
But at Ken’s Cycle Center, across the street from Sims, owner Ken Britt said his business has remained steady despite losing his sign to the right-of-way work.
“I’ve been in the business for 43 years, and I’ve been able to build up a pretty good customer base,” Britt said. “They’ve had the water off a time or two, but I haven’t really seen any effects. My lot’s still full of motorcycles.”
Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesman Mark Nagi said businesses and residents are often affected by construction projects, but said the end results are worth it.
“We appreciate the patience of business owners and motorists while this important project continues,” he said in an email. “When finished it will be a safe, more efficient roadway.”
The $42 million project to widen the road between Boone Avenue and Bobby Hicks Highway began in January 2012 and is estimated to be completed by December 2014.
It’s part of a larger plan to create a four-lane highway between Johnson City and Kingsport.
The first phase, widening the stretch between State of Franklin Road and Boone Avenue nearer Johnson City, was finished in 2009.
All three business owners said they know the project will ultimately be a positive for the area.
“It will be a good thing when they finish the four-lane,” Tipton said. “I’ve worked here for 25 years, and over that amount of time I’ve seen a lot of wrecks on this road. I think we all know it will be nicer and safer when they’re done, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt while they’re building it.”