ALGONQUIN – Passing through the heavy Route 31 construction on his way to work, Mike Kaleel, owner of Dante’s burger and hot dog shop in Algonquin, occasionally drives past his own restaurant.
And if the clutter of construction cones, trucks and changing road patterns can confuse the store’s owner, there’s no wonder why Dante’s, 10400 Route 31 in Algonquin, recently has had trouble attracting customers, Kaleel said.
When finished, the Western Algonquin Bypass will provide traffic congestion relief at Routes 62 and 31 in downtown Algonquin. But for businesses and residents in the middle of the construction, it’s tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel, or in this case, the elevated highway.
The bypass – a $33 million construction project that will create a 2-mile, four-lane highway, part of which will be a bridge over Route 62 – has been a headache for businesses such as Dante’s. Kaleel said he first noticed a dip in business in July, but when the two lanes in front of his burger and hot dog restaurant were closed in September, that’s when he really started to worry.
“After the two lanes closed in front of us, I lost about 70 percent of my business,” Kaleel said. “It was an instant hit. It wasn’t a declining thing. It had an instant impact on us.
“It’s really hard to survive right now.”
Dante’s has had to reduce its business hours during the week – and close on Sundays altogether – just to stay open and not let go of employees as a result of the decrease in customers.
“It’s dangerous to even come out here,” Kaleel said. “Coming out of my place, making a left, it’s a dangerous situation. You got those trucks coming down, high-speed cars coming down. You can’t even see it.”
Sugar Hills Bakery owner Anna Majewski said her business has taken about a 35 percent to 45 percent sales hit since July due to construction. The project has closed one of the shop’s two parking lot entrances, and customers driving north on Route 31 can’t pull in unless they turn around at a stoplight and come from the other direction.
“It is an inconvenience,” Majewski said. “If I was a customer who wanted to stop by to get a coffee cake in the morning, I probably wouldn’t do it.”
Sugar Hills Bakery, 644 S. Main St. in Algonquin, has a strong wholesale business, but the retail side has seen a downturn, Majewski said.
“Our sales went down a lot,” she said. “It’s hard.”
It’s not just businesses dealing with construction repercussions on Route 31. Jim Skinner lives on the intersection of Huntington Drive and Mulberry Court in Algonquin and said the construction has caused more than just traffic delays. He has lost phone service four or five times, his Internet connection goes in and out, and he has lost power a handful of times because of construction crews hitting power lines, he said.
And, of course, there’s the noise of living near a construction zone.
“You can hear the noise at 4 or 5 in the morning,” Skinner said. “The beep beep beep of trucks. It’s like being at a motel off the interstate.”
St. John’s Lutheran Church and School also is in the thick of the construction project, but Principal Ralph Peterson said it hasn’t been that big of an issue. Students have occasionally been late for school, and the building sustained water damage caused by construction runoff after the heavy thunderstorms in June. But the construction foreman has been in constant communication with the school, and the overall impact has been minimal, Peterson said.
“I think if somebody came in and asked if we had complaints, I’d kind of shrug it off,” Peterson said. “All in all, it’s been a pretty positive experience. It’s just one of those necessary evils of urban sprawl – or in our case, suburban sprawl.”
The bypass is expected to be completed next fall, at which point Kaleel expects to have a restaurant that is reborn. He’s changing the name to Johnny D’s, adding more menu options and looking forward to a steady flow of customers who easily can find his restaurant.
“Even though things are bad, we’ll make it through this,” Kaleel said. “We’ll survive it. I’m a fighter.”