Washougal Businesses near SR-14 construction struggle with decreased visibility

March 24, 2012

Mayor and council members offer suggestions and support

Mithc Hammontree, owner of Quiznos in Washougal (photo Martha Martin)

Martha Martin/Silver Star Reporter

Several business owners near the Camas-Washougal SR-14 widening project met Wednesday evening at Quiznos at 231 C Street, which is owned by Mitch Hammontree.  They gathered to discuss concerns with a down turn in their business sales.

Washougal Mayor Sean Guard and council member Paul Greenlee,  Camas council member Linda Dietzman,  and Brent Erickson, Executive Director of the Camas-Washougal Chamber were also in attendance.

According to Hammontree, his sales have dropped so much that he has cut his employees from 14 to 5.  “The economy was bad enough, but this was the last straw” he said, adding “People tell me it’s a hassle to get over here”, referring to the ability of people to drive to his location amidst  the construction.

Business owners near SR-14 project meet to discuss concerns (photo Martha Martin)

Other business owners, such as Jim Graybill of Jimbo’s Chevron Food Mart and Deli , would like to have some help with signage, indicating that he would be willing to “chip in” and help with the costs.

The owner of American Marble and Granite, Paul Varsek, stated that he is “as slow as I’ve ever been.  People are going different routes; people can’t see us”.  Brian Wilson, a key employee of American Marble and Granite,  added “I’m not sure how much of it is the road, but we have dropped to less than half in sales.”

The owner of Camas Napa Auto Parts, located at SE 8th Avenue,  stated that his other Battleground store “has been outpacing this one.”

Several inconveniences were described, such as flaggers standing in business entry driveways, and people unable to get to the businesses on the north side of SR-14 with traffic temporarily diverted to the south frontage road.

The biggest concern seemed to be the mound of dirt sitting in front of many businesses, which most said was blocking visibility for motorists that travel through on their way up the Gorge.

Randy Dickerson, owner of Westlie Ford on SE 1st street said that he had approached the State, and was told nothing could be done.  He added “If we make it through this, we will be really lucky”.

The owner of the Washougal Best Western Hotel, which sits on the south side of SR-14, stated that the construction is also a hindrance for his business as well.  He said that bookings for rooms are at 2-3 per night, in a hotel with 79 rooms, and he sees construction as the issue.  “It’s a big chaos right now”, he said.

Hammontree asked “Where do we go from here?”, which drew a suggestion from Mayor Guard.  “You need to keep talking with WSDOT”.

Guard went on to offer city support.  “We will work with you on signage, just don’t put it in the highway right-of-way”, adding “Keep that dialogue open with WDOT”.

Guard offered other assistance.  “We’ll talk with Camas as well [but] talk with the neighboring businesses. You are the most powerful voices.”  He later added that during construction “enforcement of signage will be relaxed to zero, [but] once the project is done, we have to continue to play by the rules”.   Guard also suggested that business owners could come to city hall go get more clarification about sign ordinances.

Upon hearing that extra signs could be placed on the south side of SR-14 near the new round-abouts, business owners seemed to soften.  Several said that this would make a big difference.

Brent Erickson, Camas-Washougal Chamber Director, suggested that both cities, the contractor, and WSDOT get together at one meeting.  Mayor Guard agreed, stating that he would spearhead this meeting, and encourage WSDOT to participate.

Council member Dietzman suggested that more encouragement was needed to get local people to come to these businesses.  She mentioned the media as a resource, and several businesses talked about placing ads.

When asked when the estimated end date for construction would be, Mayor Guard stated that it could be the first part of 2013, adding that it was “weather dependent”.  “I’m hopeful for the end of this year”, he said.

For information about the SR-14 widening project in Camas and Washougal, see http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/sr14/camaswashougal/