Freedom Boulevard construction should be done by mid-March, city staff announced at the Watsonville City Council meeting on Tuesday evening.
The completion date can't come soon enough for some business owners in the Freedom Boulevard corridor. A handful of them came before city council to plead for help because the three-year project to rebuild the road is having an impact on their bottom lines to the point where some say they are a month away from closing their doors.
“Since construction started my business is going under due to the construction work," Juan Carlos, who owns a jewelry store on the street. "I don’t think anyone here really cares about what we feel.”
The is struggling and the owner of a nearby salon, Carmen Lopez, told city council members the lack of parking due to construction is crippling her shop.
"Right now the construction is putting us out of business ... I am going through a very difficult situation," Lopez said.
Watsonville Director of Public Works and Utilities David Koch acknowledged that construction has gone on longer than the city has intended and, when pressed by business owners, said they could file claims for restitution with the city or against the contractor.
"It has taken longer than it should have, in my opinion," Koch said. "The city is trying to make the contractor have as little impact as possible on businesses.”
Initially, the plan was to replace curbs, gutters and sidewalks while rebuilding the street. But the project expanded to include more of Stanford Avenue and the intersection of Freedom Boulevard and Lincoln Street, according to the city newsletter, Wingspan.
As it stands now, lanes are frequently closed—one at a time—while crews work. The rough road surface slows traffic substantially.
But not everyone feels as put-out by the construction.
"The process has been somewhat noisy and vibrating (literally)," Ed Banks of KBK Insurance Agency said in an email. "Inconvenience–yes, but not too bad. I think the firm doing the work, MPE, is pretty conscious of the businesses along Freedom Boulevard. They are working hard..."
Changing the intersection design also is a point of contention with some.
The road construction added new curves where Lincoln Street merges with Freedom Boulevard. There are concerns those new angles will be difficult for emergency vehicles to navigate and create unnecessary hazards.
Watsonville resident Jim Bacon brought the city council a petition with more than 200 signatures asking that the redesigned intersection revert back to its original straight-as-an-arrow layout.
“That really is an unsafe turn and I’d like it taken out," Bacon said.
Koch did not speak about the intersection design. He said crews will start final paving next week and should be done by the middle of March.
“We’re drawing to a close on this project," Koch said. "We’ll have it done very soon.”