Old Orchard Construction Straining Commuters, Businesses
Construction on Skokie's main artery by Old Orchard Mall is cutting into revenue for longtime businesses. While the project is a necessary evil, some business owners have reported a 10 to 15 percent drop off in revenue.
A village-run rebuilding project of Skokie Boulevard adjoining Old Orchard Road is aimed at improving flood control and turn lanes when it is completed in mid-2013.
However, just like a recent state-run reconstruction of a longer stretch of Dempster Street in Morton Grove, there could be costs to local businesses. Stores across the street from Old Orchard Mall have already reported an impact in customer counts due to constricted traffic and jam-ups on Skokie Boulevard.
At least one longtime business reports a 10 to 15 percent decrease in store patronage due to construction, which will be suspended in November only for the holiday season before its resumption in January. Several businesses also claim they were not informed Skokie Boulevard would be cut down to one lane in each direction for the section parallel to Old Orchard Road.
The $6.3 million project consists of reconstruction of the roadway, a new water main installation, drainage improvements, new turn lanes, traffic signal, lighting installation, landscaping and pavement striping. Work will be suspended for the holiday season, with all lanes re-opened to traffic on Nov. 17 and resume after New Year’s.
“The project will improve the storm-water detention in that area,” said Bill Bablitz, Skokie’s capital projects manager. “We’ve needed to install a new water main in that end of town. We’ll be widening the intersection at Old Orchard and Skokie Boulevard. We’ll also be putting in an eastbound-to-southbound right-turn lane on Old Orchard.”
Northbound traffic on Skokie Boulevard is constricted down to one lane just north of Golf Road, causing block-long backups in the late-afternoon rush hour.
Detour signs bad for business?
“If I put a detour (sign) up by Old Orchard Shopping Center, you don’t think they (merchants) would scream?” Bablitz said.
“We recognize projects of this magnitude are inconvenient,” said Skokie spokesperson Ann Tennes. “This project is necessary to upgrade infrastructure and to alleviate flooding and water-drainage issues specific to that area of the community.”
However, some stores in the Shops at Orchard Place center on the northeast corner of Skokie Boulevard and Golf Road are feeling the impact already of the traffic snarls. Orchard Place (which includes stores like Best Buy, Wolf Camera and Jared’s) has just two entrances – from Skokie Boulevard as the bottleneck begins and Golf Road westbound only.
In contrast, motorists can avoid the construction entirely by entering Old Orchard Shopping Center from the south by Nordstrom, from the west and from the north via Old Orchard Road.
‘It’s absolutely the traffic’
Tennes said the entire project was detailed in the village newsletter, but apparently there was a breakdown in communication with businesses in Orchard Place, according to several store managers.
Several full-time employees of these businesses agreed to speak on condition of anonymity due to corporate policy. One factor is they are part of chains that defer public comment to faraway corporate spokesmen who don’t have direct knowledge of the problems. Or, they have owners who are sensitive to potentially bad publicity.
These workers said they were told Skokie Boulevard would remain at two lanes in each direction rather than the constriction that causes backups now.
“It’s absolutely the traffic,” said one. “People are avoiding the area.”
Said another: “People call ahead and ask how much the traffic is backed up before they decide to come here.”
The latter employee said his business is down 10 to 15 percent. “It’s going to be tight,” he said of commerce the rest of the year.
The Village of Skokie issued a press release regarding the construction near Old Orchard Mall on July 10. To read it, click here.