September 11, 2015
The $39 million reconstruction of a four-mile stretch of Route 13 in Bucks County – a project plagued by a significant delay – is killing local businesses, merchants say.
The problem is access.
The ongoing project, started in January 2013 and not expected to be completed until next summer, is forcing motorists to deal with one-lane traffic in each direction through Bristol Borough, Bristol Township and a small section of Tullytown. More significantly, perhaps, are the hairpin turns over narrow, makeshift paths necessary to get to businesses along the commercial roadway, also known as Bristol Pike.
“Nobody wants to go down that road right now. I think some of those businesses were suffering to begin with and for some it was the final nail in the coffin.” – Dan Bates, president, Lower Bucks County Chamber of Commerce
Mehmet Isik, owner of the Dallas Diner in Bristol Township, says nine businesses have closed in a two-mile stretch between Haines Road and Green Lane since the work began.
“It’s chased all the business from the area,” he said.
Others disagree that the closings are a direct result of the project, but business owners who remain open say it is affecting their bottom line, with revenue dwindling as customers steer clear of the difficulty of navigating to their stores.
Eileen Acker, manager of the Dallas Diner, estimates business has dropped 35 to 40 percent.
In Bristol Borough, the Route 13 Plaza is home to several empty storefronts.
“It was Plaza 13 before they ripped down our sign,” said Chris Shaffer, manager of Garden Indoors.
Despite the niche nature of his business, Shaffer said revenue is down 30 percent from three years ago. He said he had to lay off one of his three employees as a result.
“Nobody wants to go down that road right now,” acknowledged Dan Bates, president of the Lower Bucks County Chamber of Commerce. “I think some of those businesses were suffering to begin with and for some it was the final nail in the coffin.”
In any case, longtime borough business owners are struggling.
Sal Bonilla of Brothers Upholstery says his receipts are down about 50 percent.
“We used to get a lot of walk-in traffic,” he said.
Tony Canale says he’s lost a quarter of his revenue at Italian Family Pizza – as well as his entire 12-car parking lot.
“I haven’t taken any pay the last two months,” he said.
Access to the Route 13 businesses - including the pizza restaurant – is mostly gained via gravel turning lanes, about 25-feet wide and made dangerous by their 90-degree nature and adjacent gullies.
“I asked if they could make [the lane] wider but they said they don’t have enough stone,” Canale said.
Gary Paul closed his Bristol Blitz ice cream parlor last year after three seasons. But he says he knew about the project before he spent $250,000 to construct his building and was losing money before the work started. The roadwork, he said, was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Born and raised 90 feet from Route 13, Paul made his mark selling cars on the thoroughfare. But he is also known as the president of the Lucky Route 13 Businessmen’s Association, which fought unsuccessfully for more turning lanes.
“His request for turn lanes throughout the corridor came well past the public comment period,” said PennDOT’s Charlie Metzger, who added the project includes turn lanes at seven intersections.
“People will have the same access,” he said.
The project – reconstruction of Bristol Pike from Route 413 to the Levittown Parkway – includes:
• Rehabilitating the deteriorated pavement
• Replacing drainage facilities that date back to the 1940s
• Installing sidewalks and a grassy center median
• Removing jughandles and narrowing the six-lane section to four lanes
The speed limit along the roadway will also drop to 45 mph from 50 mph.
The work has been delayed by about eight months largely because crews found that many underground utilities weren’t located where expected, Metzger said.
The frustration is shared by some municipal officials.
“It’s a mess, but we have no jurisdiction,” said Craig Bowen, president of Bristol Township Council, who said he feels for the businesspeople. But, like Bates, he doesn’t believe there’s necessarily a direct link between the project and stores closing.
“There were businesses in there just hanging on by the skin of their teeth,” he said.
Bristol Borough manager James Dillon, as well as Metzger and Bates say the important thing about the project is the need for improved safety. Dillon pointed to accidents taking the lives of 10 pedestrians over the last decade on the borough’s section of Bristol Pike.
From 2005 through 2014, 12 pedestrians were killed in 23 accidents in the project corridor, according to PennDOT.
“The unfortunate thing is that this is being presented (by businesspeople) as a beautification project, which it is not,” said Bates. “I certainly empathize, but I tell them, ‘You will benefit in the future.’ … It will be more pedestrian-friendly.”
Bonilla sees that.
“Eventually, it will be good for me,” he said.