South Lake Tahoe businesses blame U.S. 50 construction for revenue drop
The old adage about Tahoe having two seasons — winter and construction — especially rang true for South Shore businesses this summer and early fall as Caltrans plugged away at year one of a three-year project on a section of U.S. 50.
“It’s been four agonizing months for myself and others,” said Brian Cohen, owner of Overland Meat and Seafood Company, located off the highway in the Kings Trading Post shopping center. “We were doing numbers like it was 2007 and the Angora Fire. The only difference was back then when we got to the end of July and August, my numbers went back up. It hasn’t happened this year.”
Regular customers told Cohen they couldn’t deal with the traffic delays or difficulty accessing his business. The number of customers he saw on an average day dropped by about 100 compared to last year.
His sales, he said, were down roughly 4 percent over the year prior in July and August. In September, when Caltrans reduced traffic down to one lane in each direction, they dropped 11 percent.
“I had to send people home and just not schedule them to work,” said Cohen of his four full-time and two part-time employees.
Kelly Sheehan, owner of Steamers Bar and Grill, also felt the impact of the road construction.
“I noticed anywhere from a 17 to a 22 percent decline in my revenue, and I strongly feel it was because of people being unable to get into my business,” said Sheehan. “On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays they would not have the traffic controls, but you could not make a left hand turn into my front entrance, which was prohibitive to people gaining access.”
Sheehan said she feels fortunate to have a “local following” that continues to patronize her restaurant, despite the inconveniences caused by the construction.
“I know that I didn’t get a lot of the tourists that I would typically get during the summer, and even into September. It impacted my business.”
Caltrans will wrap up phase one of its three-year project on a stretch of U.S. 50, spanning from the Y to Trout Creek Bridge, at the end of October. In addition to stormwater treatment improvements, the project will widen the roadway to include 6-foot shoulders for bike lanes; replace traffic signals, curbs, gutters and sidewalks; and improve the pavement slope.
This year, crews worked from the Y to Winnemucca Avenue. In 2018, the project will span from Winnemucca Avenue to Sierra Boulevard, and the following year, from Sierra Boulevard to Trout Creek Bridge.
Steve Nelson, Caltrans District 3 public information officer, said the agency took measures to try and reduce the impact on drivers and businesses, like not working on the weekends.
“During the summer, we were able to keep two lanes open during the day. Post-Labor Day we had to do grinding and paving. We set it up that way because post-Labor Day, it’s off-peak and the tourist traffic goes down,” said Nelson. “We knew it was going to have the most impact because we had to take it down to one lane in each direction.”
Crews have been working day and night shifts since Memorial Day to keep the project on schedule, said Nelson. Only working at night was not an option, he added.
“Daytime work was required during the paving the last several weeks because of the temperature requirements. The asphalt wouldn’t set properly if the contractor paved at night,” said Nelson. “Also, we’re working with a shorter window than some areas because of weather so we try to squeeze as much in during the days we have.”
But for businesses like Overland and Steamers that make money during the summer months to carry them through the shoulder season, it’s still a tough pill to swallow.
“The work they have done is awesome. They have done a great job. But this whole ordeal for all the businesses along here, this could have been dealt with in an entirely different way if they would just work at night,” said Cohen.
And with no back-road detours for drivers to take advantage of around next year’s project area, Cohen is worried that his business will have another summer slump.
“There is no bypass — and that is my concern. I already lost 20 percent of my business that comes from Glenbrook and Cave Rock this year,” said Cohen. “Unless we get this contractor to move to a night shift, it’s going to be even worse.”
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As COVID restrictions continue to rollback nationwide, tourism has started up again and is in full swing around Lake Tahoe.