Downtown businesses frustrated by C-Tran construction

By Amy Fischer, Columbian City Government Reporter

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Reshell Douglas got an unwanted, early Christmas present — a construction site in front of her downtown Vancouver business.

Douglas, owner of Not Too Shabby Boutique at 1515 Broadway, was dismayed to learn Dec. 3 that road work for one of C-Tran’s future rapid transit system bus stops would begin Dec. 7, just as holiday shopping was getting underway. Now, there’s a fence surrounding a deep trench in the street, a porta-potty and heavy construction equipment.

Customers say it’s tough to know which streets are open, let alone find a parking space and navigate the “maze of fencing,” Douglas said Wednesday. Sales are down “thousands of dollars,” she said.

“It’s definitely affected my traffic flow,” said Douglas, whose gift store and women’s clothing and accessory boutique has been at 1515 Broadway for five years. “If you had to pick a time for a retail business to stab them in the back, it would be the three weeks before Christmas.”

At least 30 percent of her annual sales are in December, and many small business rely on that boost to push them through the New Year, she said.

Kismet Andrews, owner of Lo-Lo on Broadway, said she pleaded with C-Tran to get it to hold off on construction until after the holidays, to no avail.

“The fourth quarter is absolutely crucial,” said Andrews, whose shop selling handcrafted “ecoluscious” gifts and skin care products at 1507 Broadway opened in July after relocating from Brush Prairie. “It was thoughtless. It was a disservice to people who want to support small business and the store owners,” Andrews said.

The $53 million bus rapid transit line, the first of its kind in the Portland-Vancouver region, is the largest project in C-Tran’s history. Called “The Vine,” it will run between Vancouver Mall and downtown, primarily traveling along the city’s Fourth Plain corridor, while also serving Fort Vancouver Way and Clark College. The Vine will use larger, 60-foot articulated buses and raised boarding platforms at 34 new stations along the corridor.

C-Tran spokeswoman Christine Selk said the transit agency takes the business owners’ frustrations seriously and has “put a premium on public outreach” regarding the project. Before construction began, four C-Tran staff members canvassed more than 400 businesses downtown to provide information about the project’s website, construction hotline and monthly construction outreach coffee sessions.

However, they didn’t notify specific businesses that construction would begin nearby Dec. 7, Selk said.

Each bus stop takes about two months to build.

“We’re going to do the best we can to be in and out of there as efficiently and effectively as possible,” she said. “It’s very important for us to maintain a rigorous schedule on this.”

C-Tran asked the contractor, Battle Ground-based Tapani Inc., to place “Business Open” signs near the stores and open Broadway’s southbound lane after 4 p.m. on weekdays and all day Saturdays and Sundays. Halting work for three weeks on a project so large and complex wasn’t possible, especially due to the weather constraints, Selk said, adding that the project probably will span next year’s holiday season, too.

Douglas and Andrews said they support The Vine project and were aware it was going to happen — but not exactly when. Douglas posted a Facebook message to her customers Dec. 4 explaining the situation and asking for their continued support.

“I promise, once inside the doors, it will all be worth it,” she wrote.

She appreciates the clients who have continued to shop at her store, and new customers who dropped by after hearing of her plight.

“I’m really grateful that there’s a lot of people out there who would go out of their way to support a small business,” Douglas said.