Businesses in Athens say they’re losing sales from the West Union Street traffic restrictions

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ATHENS, Ohio  (WOUB) — Athens business owners say they are losing money and may have to lay employees off because of traffic flow from the construction on West Union Street.  

West Union Street is currently a one-way road from the intersection of state Route 56 and 682 going toward the O’Bleness Hospital entrance. From that point the road returns to two-way traffic.  

John Gutekanst, owner and CEO of The Slice House on West Union, said he’s losing almost half of his business every day and will have to let some employees go.  

He said the road is empty half the time due to the one-way traffic and the detour.  

“We’re staring at a desert — literally,” Gutekanst told the Athens City Council at a recent meeting attended by other West Union business owners. “All because they can’t make it two ways.”

Construction work on West Union Street has reduced about half of it to one lane that flows in one direction. Some business along that stretch say their sales are down significantly because of the traffic flow.
Construction work on West Union Street in Athens has reduced about half of it to one lane that flows in one direction. Some business along that stretch say their sales are down significantly because of the traffic flow. [Alison Patton | WOUB]
There’s also no good detour for people to get to the West Union Street businesses, Gutekanst said. The street doesn’t have a lot of side roads people can use to get around the construction or the detour.  

The detour takes drivers through the Richland Avenue roundabout along state Route 682 to the intersection by White’s Mill.  

“I’m not looking for anybody’s sympathy,” Gutekanst said. “I just need them to do one thing (and that’s to) make this road viable again, so that I can stay in business.” 

West Union has been one-way traffic since March 4 while a construction crew is working to update water mains, which has shut the road down to one lane. Sidewalks and curbs are getting repaired as well.  

Athens City Service-Safety Director Andy Stone said traffic is going to remain one way until mid-November due to the contractor agreement and street size, but the city is talking with the contractor, Shelly and Sands, about speeding up the process.  

However, expediting construction would mean spending more money for additional materials, immobilization fees and labor on a project that is already $7 million, Stone said.  

“Were we to go and pay more money in order to do that, that would be more debt that the city would be taking on, and subsequently taxpayers would be paying back for longer and not be able to do other things,” Stone said.   

Business owners said they have seen drivers going the wrong way down the one-way lane, which Stone acknowledged has been a problem.  

Law enforcement has given several people tickets for doing just that, Stone said, but there’s also someone who has been moving signs and barricades around, causing confusion.  

“We’re really worried that we’re going to get into a situation where we end up having opposing traffic meeting each other head on because of this modification of the work zone,” Stone said.  

Athens Area Chamber of Commerce President Kristin Miller said a lack of communication is causing some problems businesses have.  

Business owners have shown up for work to find their entrance blocked off, Miller said. Some customers are unclear if West Union Street is open to traffic at all.  

“We don’t want to forget about these (businesses) because if this construction does last through August or even December, if we aren’t going and supporting them, we might not see them again. I think that would be tragic,” Miller said.  

Kenneth Oehlers, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio, said he has also seen a decline in sales and donations at Habitat’s ReStore on West Union since the construction started. 

“It’s causing more damage than what it’s worth right now,” Oehlers said. 

“Habitat’s thrift store operation is unrestricted funds to help support the staffing cost for not only the employees at the store, but also the people in the operations side that build and repair homes for families in need,” Oehlers said.