Construction is nearly complete along eight miles of the Metro light-rail route — but the pain didn’t vanish when the final backhoe rolled away.
Merchants along that stretch of the route in east Phoenix and Tempe said customers have grown so used to avoiding construction along the 20-mile system that they incorrectly assume everything is still torn up.
Those business owners are now trying to figure out how to let their customers know several miles of streets are back to normal.
“Getting them back in the habit is going to be hard,” said Gary Lasko, one of the owners of the landmark Stockyards Restaurant in east Phoenix. “I don’t know how you get that out — letting people know they’ve got it done. It’s great now.”
Metro has completed eight continuous miles of the track, and the roads are mostly back to normal in that stretch from McClintock Drive and Apache Boulevard in Tempe to Washington Street and 44th Street in Phoenix.
Business isn’t back to normal at Pier 49 Pizza at Washington Street and Priest Drive, where construction is complete. Owner Brian Jacobson said business dropped 17 percent during the work — and the plaza he is in “was just dead on a daily basis” for six weeks of especially intense work.
He’s also trying to get word out to customers that the street is in good shape now.
“Now that it’s done, it’s better than it was before,” Jacobson said. “The roadway is nicer looking, cleaner.”
Several business owners gave high marks to contractors for trying to ease the pain. But where construction is still intense, that’s not enough to overcome drivers’ aversion to construction.
Walk-in traffic is down 50 percent at City Billiards on Main Street in west Mesa, employee Jim Sears said. He’s been frustrated at the number of times potential customers will call and say they’re excited about visiting his business and then refuse to come.
“As soon as I tell them our location, they’ll say ‘I don’t want to come down there. They’ve got all that construction going on,’” Sears said.
The most intense light-rail construction should end by early 2008. All the track will be in place by then, which means crews will have already finished moving utilities and will have repaved the rough roads.
The final touches of installing the overhead wires and building the stations will take place out of the roadway, Metro spokeswoman Marty McNeil said.
“Typically, we’re working inside our own guide way, so if you’re driving your car, it’s all good for you,” McNeil said.
Light-rail passenger service is scheduled to begin in December 2008 on the $1.4 billion system.