Nearly one mile of the main thoroughfare through Stoughton will be under construction for the next five months – but some businesses that will be affected say they are ready for it.
Starting June 2, U.S. Hwy. 51 from Hoel Avenue to Page Street will be partially or fully closed through October as part of a long awaited Wisconsin Department of Transportation project. When finished, the large potholes and bumps will be gone, with fresh asphalt lining the road and severely deteriorated joints replaced.
Although business owners and managers along that route have already dealt with disruptions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, those the Hub spoke with said they are looking forward to seeing a bad road get better. And while some have found the timing unfortunate, one said the timing is actually better because of the pandemic limiting traffic.
Unlike with last year’s brief shutdown of part of the road, there’s been more communication from official channels, though not everyone has gotten the message.
Joe Conant of Conant Automotive, 1324 Hwy. 51, said communication from public works department and WisDOT has been thorough, he said, including letters in the mail, public hearings and emails.
But Erika Cervantes, co-owner of El Rio Grande restaurant, said the majority of her information about the construction has come from customers and Facebook.
That is better than last year, she said, when a surprise 11 day closure between Van Buren and Page streets – plus construction of their west entrance off Monroe Street – was announced just 12 days before construction began.
This year, the closure is far longer and more extensive.
From Van Buren Street to Hoel Avenue, four lanes of traffic will be shrunk to two lanes for the entirety of the project. During that time, drivers will not be able to make left turns into businesses or onto the street.
And from June 22 to the beginning of August, Van Buren Street to Page Street is expected to be fully closed, WisDOT project manager Alex Hagen told the Hub. WisDOT has had two public information sessions starting in 2018. It also held a private meeting with affected businesses and property owners about this project in October 2019 to discuss the design and general outline.
WisDOT will hold another teleconference for business and property owners from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 28. This meeting will be led by the contractor to discuss the timeline for the various stages of the project.
The Chamber of Commerce and the Stoughton public works department have been working closely with WisDOT to provide communication for affected property owners. Both entities will be posting information on their websites and send corresponding information through email.
Cervantes said this year’s construction needs to be done but is unfortunate timing, as for the past two months, the business already has been disrupted from COVID-19.
“It is just one thing after the other,” she said. “But we’ve been very blessed that the community has stuck by us and supported us.”
Cervantes said she and her siblings, who own the restaurant together, are finding alternative ways to service their customers including curbside pickup and delivery. As a result of both the construction and COVID-19, staff may consider staying closed to dine-in customers for a longer period of time.
Conant said he’s been waiting for this project since he bought his building 14 years ago. While his business is located further west, in an area that won’t be fully closed, he said the responsibility for marketing effectively during the construction falls on each individual business.
Blackhawk Credit Union branch manager Julie Nygaard said she has been working with the surrounding businesses to possibly throw a block party when the construction is over.
Nygaard said the credit union’s lobby being closed for the past two months due to COVID-19 has somewhat prepared customers for the upcoming construction.
“In a way, it is kind of nice, because our members are learning how to use online banking – and this will prepare them for the construction phase.”
An employee from O’Reilly’s Auto Parts who wished to keep his name unpublished said he agrees the construction needs to be done but said it is not at an ideal time.
“The businesses are hurting now as it is, and with the roads being shut down, it will be just as bad if not worse,” he said. “But it is something that every business person has to deal with.”