August 1, 1996 in Washington Voices

Merchants Say Underpass Delay Is Costly

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The almost empty parking lot of the Argonne Village shopping center may be baking under a hot summer sun.

But the merchants inside the adjacent shops and restaurants are the ones who are steaming.

Last week, Spokane County officials said the Argonne Underpass construction project wouldn’t be finished until October, a month longer than previously announced.

“We have a difficult time understanding why,” said Bob Hitchcock, owner of The Crafter’s Showcase.

He said his business is down at least 70 percent since the county’s contractor began construction a year ago in July.

Four commercial spaces in the shopping center are now vacant, and the businesses that are still open are struggling to stay open.

“We are going under fast,” Hitchcock said.

County officials have said they were being overly optimistic when they scheduled the reopening for Sept. 13, but they provided no details of the reason for the delay in the $10 million project.

They said last week the heavily traveled arterial won’t be open until Oct. 14.

When finished, the underpass will carry vehicle traffic beneath a new concrete rail trestle. Previously, Argonne traffic was routed across the Burlington Northern right-of-way at a grade crossing, which meant frequent tieups from passing trains.

Argonne Village is tucked next to the underpass project, making access to the shopping center difficult for motorists who are forced onto detours.

During construction, a lot of drivers simply abandoned the Argonne interchange in favor of alternate routes.

As a result, the businesses in the area have suffered because of the serpentine traffic pattern.

At Wolffy’s Rockin’ ‘50s’s Hamburgers, sales are down about 50 percent, said owner Ron Branson.

“It has a severe impact,” he said. “To me, it’s ridiculous. If you promise you are going to do something, you should do it.”

Branson and other merchants said the county aggravated the problem by allowing sewer construction last spring on Montgomery Avenue just east of Argonne.

The business owners said they pleaded with the county to get the project done as quickly as possible, and they encouraged the West Valley School District to cooperate in the planning.

County officials should have gotten the project finished this month, the owners said.

Kevin Olson, manager of Super Save Drug Center at Argonne Village, said he had to eliminate three full-time employees because of a 35 to 40 percent drop in business.

If it wasn’t for the drug store’s loyal customers, it probably would have gone out of business, he said.

“It’s really, really frustrating,” Olson said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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