The day after Lexie Clark got her Kansas University diploma in May, she received an unwelcome graduation gift: roadway construction everywhere.
Finishing out her lease in a house near the KU campus, Clark was excited to spend her last carefree summer in Lawrence. But the constant navigational battle she fights through detours and road obstructions from City of Lawrence and KU construction projects has left Clark ready to move away from her college home.
“The road closure on Bob Billings from Crestline to Engel has been ridiculous,” Clark said. “I have to go through parking lots and neighborhoods to get anywhere. It’s dangerous and irritating.”
It's summer in Lawrence, which means the city is rushing to get several major road construction projects done, to take advantage of the local population reduction caused by KU summer vacation. That's causing detours around torn-up roadways on major thoroughfares such as Iowa Street, Bob Billings Parkway, Wakarusa Drive and Jayhawk Boulevard.
And as annoying as the construction is for drivers such as Clark, it’s even more troubling for many local businesses along the affected routes.
Cornered by construction on Naismith Drive and Jayhawk Boulevard, as well as a reroofing job at Chi Omega sorority, Sara Wade, general manager of Jayhawk Bookstore at 1420 Crescent Rd., has had the sound of jackhammers ringing in her ears all summer.
Besides the noise, the construction is bad for business, Wade said. The renovations began the day after KU graduation, a time that coincides with prime book-buying season for summer classes.
“Our sales are definitely down because of it,” Wade said. “A lot of people are calling to see if we are open or for the best route to take to here.”
Compared to last summer, Jayhawk Bookstore’s sales are down about $5,000 so far, Wade said. Still, she takes the inconvenience in stride.
“It’s summer, so we are dealing with it,” Wade said. “If this was August, I would be like, ‘move!’”
Not all business owners are as resigned to the construction as Wade.
Since the City’s Kasold-to-Crestline project along Bob Billings Parkway began in May, all has been quiet on the western front of Lawrence in the Orchard Corners Shopping Center — aside from the shrill beeps and resounding booms of construction trucks.
K.J. Jalali, co-owner of University Liquor, stares longingly at the shopping plaza’s empty parking lot. The Bob Billings project has made accessing the shopping plaza at 1410 Kasold Drive a daunting task.
Running a liquor store in a college town, Jalali knows to expect a lull in sales after the spring semester, but with the added traffic congestion this year, sales are in a greater slump.
“It’s killing us. During summertime, business hurts anyway without the students, so this construction is just the icing on the cake,” Jalali said. “They are punching us while we’re down.”
Next door, owners of the Scone Lady’s Coffee Shop had posted a sign in their window reading, “We will close early today at 1 p.m. Thank you.” Jalali says his coffeeshop neighbor closes on slow days, which have become more frequent as of late.
Once August rolls around, motorists will once again have full access to the Orchard Corners shops when westbound Bob Billings Parkway, from Iowa Street, is reopened following the completion of the road construction. But in the meantime, Jalili is worried about the longterm effects of the construction on his business.
“A lot of people do not bother to go through the hassle of the detour,” Jalali said. “Customers will go to another store, then they start always going to that store and you can lose them for good.”
About a mile away, at the corner of Bob Billings and Wakarusa, construction is rerouting traffic through the shopping center that includes pet groomer and boutique Pawsh Wash. Receptionist Olivia Ewert says she has begun offering a new service: detour directions.
“We get a lot of calls for directions because it’s pretty tedious to find a way into this shopping strip,” Ewert said. “A lot of people do not know of the other entrances besides the one currently blocked off, but they find their way.”
While Pawsh Wash’s sales have not been noticably hurt by the construction, Ewert says she is still ready for the orange cones to go away.
“It was necessary and we are happy to pay it,” Ewert said. “Just get it done already.”
City communications manager Megan Gilliland said that while officials expected this summer to be challenging for many, they felt the construction projects were necessary, especially the rebuilding of the important intersection of Iowa Street, Bob Billings and the W. 15th Street entrance to KU's campus.
“We recognize that Iowa is a main artery in Lawrence,” Gilliland said, “but the infrastructure on our streets (was) failing and we had to respond.”
Lawrence driver Amy Rosales agrees that even though the construction was needed, the roadwork is aggravating.
“It’s nice that my tax dollars are being used for improvement that I can physically see," Rosales said, "but at the same time such an inconvenience to my personal and business life,”
While Kansas University freshmen will arrive to (hopefully) newly paved roads in the fall, Rosales says the college town must still go on when classes are out of session -- and the roadwork makes that difficult.
“The summertime is an opportune time for the construction since a lot of students are gone,” Rosales said, “but it’s still hectic for the remaining Lawrence life.”