Some merchants say they will be driven out of business by the reconstruction of University Avenue planned for this summer.
Business owners, who met Wednesday with Mayor Joe Jenkins and Utah Department of Transportation engineers, asked that the project be delayed until 1989 and that on-street parking proposed for elimination be spared."I might as well just shut down, because this will almost surely put me out of business," said one motel operator, protesting the proposal that would close much of University Avenue during the peak tourist months from July through October.
UDOT is proposing to do the $2 million first phase of the $4.6 million reconstruction between July and Oct. 15. Phase one will rebuild University between Fifth South and Eighth North.
Phase two of the project extends from Eighth North to 1650 North and is scheduled for construction next year.
UDOT is considering closing two- to four-block sections of University Avenue at a time to traffic as the project begins at Fifth South and moves north.
But merchants said that plan would eliminate customers' access to the shops during the sidewalk-sales season and at the time Brigham Young University students are returning to Provo after summer vacation. Those two periods are when they make enough money to carry them through times of slower sales during the rest of the year, business owners said.
Some asked why the first phase of the project could not be delayed until April 1989, when many BYU students will leave town for the summer, and be completed before the students return in September, minimizing the negative impact on sales.
Jenkins said that construction schedule is a possibility but presents some problems. For one thing, University Avenue would be torn up during the 1989 Freedom Festival July Fourth celebration, when Provo traditionally is host to 300,000 to 400,000 visitors.
There's also a chance the $2 million now set aside for the project might not be available next year.
"It's a gamble because next year the money might not be there," UDOT engineer Dan Nelson said. "I'd hate to see that happen, because Provo has worked six or seven years to get this project funded."
If phase one is delayed until next year, phase two could be completed this year, Jenkins said. But even if the merchant's request is granted and phase one delayed, University Avenue intersections downtown will be torn up this summer to install new traffic signal connections.
Installation of that equipment, which will synchronize traffic signals via computer, is a move mandated by an Environmental Protection Agency plan to reduce the level of carbon monoxide in the air in downtown Provo. By synchronizing the signals, officials hope to move traffic through the downtown area more quickly, cutting exhaust emissions in the area.
The traffic plan also calls for right-turn lanes to be added at University Avenue intersections. The turn lanes will eliminate some on-street parking, and that also has merchants angry.
Business owners say there already is not enough parking for their customers, and eliminating more parking spaces will just make the problem worse.
"There's no way we can give up that parking," one businessman said as he accused the city of caving in to EPA threats to withhold federal funding from Provo. "To single out businesses and put them out of business to satisfy the EPA is out of the question."