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“Patience is a virtue, that’s a saying we might tout,as we drive that old five-way stop that will be our roundabout. But if you’re a business owner with flagging sales, or little clout, hanging on by just a shoestring, you damn this roundabout.”

Russ Messing, Healdsburg literary laureate

A long-running project to install a roundabout and major infrastructure improvements at the gateway to downtown Healdsburg — now as much as a year behind schedule — has created pain, frustration and anger, especially for businesses in the construction zone having to endure the noise, dust and loss of customers.

The $10.3 million project that started a year ago was supposed to finish Wednesday, according to the contract. But winter rains and other complications have delayed the estimated completion date to next May, according to the contractor, but more likely August 2018, according to city officials.

The disruptions and delay have been blamed for pushing one bar out of business, leaving some shops either teetering on the brink of closing or absorbing significant hits to their bottom line, according to a number of business owners.

“For sure it’s impacted us,” said Sonoma Cider owner Dave Cordtz, whose Mill Street taproom was essentially cut off by heavy equipment for a two-week period last month.

“There’s a large trench in the middle of the road,” he said, explaining that during two recent weeks an excavator was tearing up the ground in front of the taproom’s driveway, posing a seemingly impenetrable barrier to his business.

“It was thousands of dollars we lost because of it,” he said, adding his business suffered a 30 to 40 percent loss in gross sales.

The story is much the same for a number of businesses near the construction epicenter at a busy five-way intersection one block south of historic Healdsburg Plaza.

The temporary traffic roundabout, a prelude to a permanent one that will replace the intersection that had train tracks running through it, has actually improved traffic flow, according to city officials and merchants. But it’s the digging up of streets around it that is causing headaches.

“The roundabout was great when they started construction. It improved traffic flow greatly. No one had to stop,” said Richard Peacock, owner of Spoke Folk Cyclery on nearby Center Street.

But installing new water and sewer pipes, and underground utilities, and rebuilding a badly-deteriorated, near century-old culvert that funnels Foss Creek under the road, led to major disruptions.

Then in July, to allow some of the work to proceed, access to Mill Street from the roundabout was closed off, and expected to last three months.

“We saw a dramatic drop (in business) at the same time they closed the road,” Peacock said. “We were up for the year 20 percent before they closed Mill Street. Now we’re struggling to stay even with last year.”

The roundabout and nearby street excavations are not the only projects that have made parts of the Wine Country tourist destination resemble a job site with congested traffic and unavailable parking spaces. Just up Healdsburg Avenue leading into the plaza, construction is progressing on the new h3 Hotel.

Street resurfacing has been ongoing around town, and there is a major Highway 101 repaving project periodically closing off freeway ramps into Healdsburg.

But the roundabout and related infrastructure work cause the most angst and impatience, with shifting detour signs, construction barriers, steel plates in the road and traffic snarls at various times of the day. It even inspired a three-minute poem that Messing read to the City Council.

His recitation was greeted by applause and a comment from Vice-mayor Brigette Mansell who said poetry “just cuts to the truth. It speaks to the truth.”

“It’s definitely impacting business. People are just fatigued,” City Manager David Mickaelian said of the roundabout project.

“We want to get this thing done.”

City officials blame the low bidder on the project, Bay Cities Paving and Grading of Concord, for much of the delay, although heavy winter rains also slowed progress.

“They’re not the most efficient contractor. The delays are from their inefficiencies as far as the city’s perspective on it,” said Public Works Director Brent Salmi. “Bay Cities isn’t always the best at paying attention to what they’re doing and how it impacts the business, meaning they will block the driveway and do things they shouldn’t do if they were paying attention or caring.”

Bay Cities did not respond to requests for comment.

The City Council met in closed session two months ago to discuss litigation that might arise from the work delays.

The company also faces fines of $1,000 a day past its completion deadline that just passed.

One longtime merchant on the Healdsburg Plaza, clothing boutique owner Susan Graf, says roundabout construction is the main reason her business has been down “a good 30 percent since the beginning of the year.”

“All the locals have stopped going into town,” she said of her customers from surrounding areas who are staying away because of the construction mess.

Merchant Janet Browning, owner of Shoffeits’ antiques collective, a stone’s throw from the roundabout, said business is down about 50 percent.

“It’s been pretty tough,” she said.

The community even came together to help one business — Singletree Cafe — that has been particularly impacted by the construction activity and drop in foot traffic.

A recent fundraiser at the cafe with live music attracted about 400 people and raised enough money to pay two months’ rent to help keep the diner in business, said owner Nancy Van Praag.

Salmi said merchants who feel they have lost business are free to file claims against the city, although they will have to document their losses.

In the end, city officials say the new roundabout and upgrades should be worth the trouble.

As poet Messing put it: “Round and round and round we go. Patience, anger, hope and doubt, but some day, or at least some year, we’ll rejoice in the roundabout.”

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 707-521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkmas.

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