Downtown construction takes toll on local businesses

The construction project in Downtown Tuscaloosa currently blocks off portions of Lurleen B. Wallace and University Boulevards. Access to local businesses near the intersection has been limited and patrons and staff fear that the closures could be detrimental to sales.

By Emily Howell
News Reporter

TUSCALOOSA— An 18-month road construction project is creating problems for downtown businesses, owners say.

The 18-month road construction project in Downtown Tuscaloosa is fully underway. As a result, sections of Lurleen B. Wallace and University Boulevards are closed completely. This project has posed an inconvenience for local businesses at the intersection of Lurleen Southbound.  

While there used to be parking spots on University Boulevard, patrons of businesses like O’Henry’s Coffee and Frutta Bowls have to park blocks away and walk. Some employees and customers said they fear the road closures will be detrimental to business in the long run.

Frutta Bowls staff member Wilkes Pierce said he can see the effects of the construction every day at work, and he is worried that business will keep decreasing as the project continues.

Other merchants also expressed concern for the foot traffic.

“Ever since they closed [portions of] the road we have lost our regular customers because they would prefer to go to another coffee shop that is easier to access,” said Eric Mueller, a barista at O’Henry’s.  “Our sales have dipped and it’s going to be hard to recover from this.”

The construction project is for a full resurfacing of Lurleen, including the additions of left and right turn lanes at the intersection and parallel parking to side streets. The project was designed to improve traffic flow and is expected to be completed by Dec. 15, 2019.

“We constantly get calls all the time asking if we’re even open,” said Jarrod Maldonado, manager of Frutta Bowls. “We used to have a ton of business here.”

Maldonado said businesses located off Lurleen like Jimmy Johns and Dunkin’ Donuts are taking an even bigger hit due to the lack of access from the main roads.  

In response to the large amount of questions regarding convenience and closures, the Alabama Department of Transportation has created a website to keep patrons of downtown up-to-date on the construction. The website includes a project tracker, FAQ page and an overview complete with an informational video.

Maldonado said that though it’s been hard to stay on top of the sales decline, he can see the positive effects of the roadwork.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” said Maldonado. “You have construction and it sucks for businesses and customers, but at the same time you have people complaining that we pay all these taxes and nothing ever gets done.”

Maldonado said he believes road construction is a good sign that a city is using its money wisely, so he can’t be too upset by it. To stay updated on the project’s progress and changes to traffic flow, visit www.lurleenproject.com.