Constructing cooperation

SR-14 crews bring delays and dollars

Mitch Hammontree, owner of Quiznos, at The Crossing, in Washougal, enjoys talking with crews from Tapani Underground, Inc. Despite support from many of the Tapani employees, Hammontree said his business has experienced a 50 percent decline in sales since the state Route 14 improvements project started earlier this year. Buy this photo

Kurt Cichosz, a foreman with Tapani Underground Inc., has eaten at Quiznos, in Washougal, five days a week, for four months.

As one of the road construction crew members working on the state Route 14 improvements project, Cichosz estimates he has spent more than $1,000 on a variety of sandwiches, sodas, chips and cookies at the local Quiznos.

“It’s healthier [than fast food], a great value and there is great customer service,” he said.

Cichosz, a resident of Battle Ground, said he has been spending additional money locally including gasoline purchases at Jimbo’s Chevron since he started working on the SR-14 improvements project.

He is among the Tapani employees who have been supporting local companies.

“The businesses have been real pleasant to work with,” said Randy Allen, a foreman.

When the SR-14 improvements project is completed, the highway will be four lanes wide between the West Camas Slough Bridge and Sixth Street in Washougal. A median barrier is expected to improve safety by dividing traffic between Northwest Sixth Avenue and Sixth Street. The new split diamond interchange will carry SR-14 traffic up and over Union and Second streets.

Mitch Hammontree, co-owner of the local Quiznos with his wife Cindy, said he appreciates the support of the road crews.

“They are a nice group of people — very respectful,” he said. “They’re sympathetic and business friendly. We let the flaggers use our restroom instead of the porta-potties. That’s part of the community that we’re offering them. It’s nice and warm in here. With the cold weather and rain coming, that’s one of those things that you overlook sometimes.”

Even with support from the Tapani employees, Hammontree said his business has been experiencing a 50 percent decrease in business since the SR-14 project started.

“For every one of them that has come in, there are four [potential customers] that don’t,” he said. “That is the net effect.”

One of the more frustrating aspects of the SR-14 project for Hammontree has been the replacement of trees with a mound of dirt between the highway and The Crossing development.

He said the dirt, which was transported from the Cape Horn area in March, has made it difficult for Quiznos to attract customers.

“Some of the dirt should have been put farther down the street or across the street –– between Sixth and 15th –– where there are no businesses,” Hammontree said. “The recycled dirt saves money. That is fine. It should have been where it did not block this entire complex.

“I’m kind of being handcuffed,” he added. “Corporate asks what the deal is with the business. Without experiencing it, you wonder how it could be.”

“Sun” continues to shine in Washougal

Ivonna Hagen, owner of Sun Salon, also in The Crossing, said she has not noticed a decrease in business since work on the SR-14 project has started.

“Tanning is more of a destination,” she said.

While Hagen appreciates that the road crews keep the streets clean, she wishes they would utilize parking spaces that are farther away for their all-day parking uses.

“My customers have to walk farther — in the rain and the dark,” she said.

Hagen described the mound of dirt that replaced trees as “kind of ugly.”

“I guess it can’t be helped,” she said. “They are saving money by recycling the dirt.”

Teresa Didier, assistant vice president and branch manager of the Columbia Credit Union sites in the Riverstone Marketplace, in Camas, and The Crossing, said the Washougal roadwork and traffic delays are slowing down her employees when they “go into town.”

“We empathize with our customers,” she added. “I am looking forward to completion of the project.”

Didier said the road crews have been friendly and cordial.

“I know they don’t want to be a burden to us,” she said.

Didier said the future construction of a roundabout near The Crossing, as well as the building of a Vancouver Clinic, will help attract additional account holders to the credit union.

In December 2010, the Vancouver Clinic, Inc., purchased approximately five acres at SR-14 and Southeast Second Avenue, with the intention of building a medical clinic within five years.

Customers curious about construction

Dave Fletcher, owner of One Stop Home Furnishings, in Camas, said there have been a lot of people stopping by to ask about the SR-14 project.

“There is a bird’s eye view diagram at the store,” he said. “People have enjoyed looking at that. We’ve been getting a lot of comments. It will be safer and look nice. People want to get stoplights off the highway.”

Fletcher has been pleased with the work of the road crews.

“Traffic seems to be flowing well,” he said. “They are making people go 45 now. It’s a good, safe speed. The guys and gals from Tapani have been really respectful and very aware of the businesses in the area. They seem to be moving at a very quick pace to try to get as much stuff done as they can.”

He expects commuters will favor the single lane roundabouts more than stoplights.

“I think the truckers will appreciate it too, instead of hitting the brakes,” Fletcher said. “We’re really excited to see when it’s all done, how it will affect everything. You just have to get used to new on and off ramps.”

Construction is expected to start soon on a roundabout near the furniture store, at 2140 S.E. Eighth Ave.

Fletcher said it will be so close to the One Stop building, he wondered “how to put in a drive-thru sofa window.

“The roundabout will be between me and Tidland,” he said. “It will be a cozy fit.

“Everyone is amazed at how quickly things are progressing,” Fletcher added. “They are five months into it. They seem well on their way to finishing roundabouts. We’re all just happy with the speed with which they are moving.”

This week, there are intermittent shoulder closures during the daytime with flaggers between Union and Second streets. South Union Street is closed, with a detour in place. Single lane closures are in effect from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., with rough pavement and narrowed lanes on the West Camas Slough Bridge.

For more information, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/regions/southwest/construction.