Businesses: Don’t avoid downtown PO due to roundabout delays

Long waits resulting from construction of a roundabout at the intersection of Bay Street and Bethel Avenue have drivers rethinking their commutes through downtown Port Orchard, leaving some local businesses scrambling to cut their losses.

Traffic has come to a screeching halt for many who drive Port Orchard’s busiest streets since work began on the roundabout in July. The outdated light signal that used to dictate the vehicle flow has been taken down and replaced by three temporary traffic signals.

Those who choose to take downtown roads have been subject to wait times of up to 30 minutes—delays that are forcing some drivers to avoid the area altogether.

Teresa Ehrhardt at Nostalgia House Bakery said that despite posted detours, the gridlock and calls to avoid driving the street have contributed to an almost 50% downtick in business. “We’ve never had backups like this,” she said, “and (school traffic) comes right down this hill. The buses, the students, everything comes here.”

Construction of the roundabout sits at the doorstep of the bakery and the several other shops inside the Westbay Center that are claiming similar losses in August and beyond.

“We’re pretty much, since construction started, only getting people who have been in before,” Maddie Dominguez with The Glass Box Tropical Fish said. “We’re not really getting anybody wandering in, no new curiosity people right now. That hits sales ultimately.”

The loss in business is even contributing to a loss of hours for some employees. Christina Savage at Top Smoke said she has had to do that. “Usually, if we were at a regular capacity, I would be here till 8:30 or 9 at night. Now it’s so slow, I can’t justify being here that late,” she said.

Of the complaints from business owners and commuters, Scott Kuzminsky, a field engineer with JC Construction, said: “This construction is going to go on for a while longer, so if people can plan ahead and go a different route, that might help alleviate some of the traffic as well. With school, there’s only so many ways you can go, so plan ahead and try to leave a little early.”

He said the timing of the temporary lights has been adjusted in efforts to lessen the traffic congestion and could be changed again. “We’re trying to keep traffic moving,” he said. “As you lengthen one, other directions have to wait for longer, so we’re just trying to make sure they are timed properly.”

Businesses fear their numbers both in visitors and revenue will continue to dip until the project’s anticipated November completion. Ehrhardt said she is asking customers to do what they can to come in and remember that there are still businesses worth visiting.

“The message of, ‘Avoid Bay Street, avoid Bay Street!’ just isn’t very helpful for us,” she said. “I understand their frustration, but it doesn’t help. We’re still trying to run a business.”