Drivers heading east on Highway 50 drove past white road signs on Wednesday assuring potential customers that businesses are still open despite continued construction on a $40.6 million Caltrans project.
Swirls of dust circled over the heads of construction workers as crews worked to expand the highway's shoulders, add new sidewalks and bike lanes, install roadside drainage systems and improve signal operations between Trout Creek Bridge and Ski Run Boulevard.
Though some Highway 50 businesses said these are needed improvements, others said that their summer revenues have taken a hit this year.
"I know last summer we were a lot busier. Driving down that street and entering the businesses, my friends say they don't want anything to do with it," Melissa Ward said.
Ward works as a server and bartender at The Brewery at Lake Tahoe, a restaurant and pub that abuts the highway. Customers looking to access The Brewery's patio have to navigate a ditch where the new sidewalk will go, as well as tape and signs warning that the southern shoulder of the road is temporarily closed.
For Nima Z, manager of Travel Inn close to the intersection of Highway 50 and Ham Lane, noise is the main issue, but other than a few complaints, she said she doesn't think the hotel has lost reservations because of the construction.
"People get disturbed because of the noise and all of that, but that's it," she said.
According to Katie Schultz, owner of SugarPine Bakery, sales at her original store location just west of Ski Run Boulevard are about on par with previous summers. The bakery sits south of a parking lot that acts as a buffer between its front door and the highway, and Schultz said that since work stops on weekends, her biggest sale days are unaffected.
"We feel it in the morning sometimes, but I know other businesses have been affected. I know they might close down our driveway, but they came in here and told us. They've been pretty nice and it looks good. They have to get it done," Schultz said.
Just next door to SugarPine Bakery, there's a break in the orange cones in front of The Village Board Shop. Owner of the shop Dick Yost received an injunction against Caltrans in late June, and the two parties are currently in litigation.
Neither Caltrans spokeswoman Deanna Shoopman nor Yost could comment further on the lawsuit, but currently all construction will bypass the shop.
The Village Board Shop has a small parking area for customers, an area that would have disappeared if the work had taken place, Yost said. Even so, he said he's still seen revenues dip. Lane closures have made biking a perilous endeavor, and his rental numbers are down.
"The construction would have eliminated 100 percent of our parking. We've still taken a hit. At the moment we have zero bike rentals. No one wants to rent a bike now, it's too dangerous," Yost said.
Shoopman said the project contractor is on track, weather-permitting, to finish the work between Trout Creek Bridge and Ski Run Boulevard by mid-October. Twenty-four hour weekday construction will go into effect the Tuesday following Labor Day weekend, Shoopman said.
Another $7.3 million construction project to widen the Highway 50 corridor from Ski Run Boulevard to Wildwood Avenue is slated to begin this fall. Caltrans estimates that the project, which will also add new bikes lanes, sidewalks and roadside drainage systems, will be completed next summer.