Local merchants may not be able to eliminate all financial losses projected to occur when University Avenue undergoes repairs next year, but they at least have time to plan and work together.

That was the message Tuesday night during a presentation on University Avenue improvements by Provo's Association of Involved Merchants and Utah Department of Transportation officials."I think it's fantastic that you have this much time to think about it," said John Beal, Central Bank Riverside Plaza branch manager. He said merchants along State Street, which was widened earlier this year, had only 30 days notice before construction began.

"I think you're going to have a much smoother transition."

The University Avenue project, to begin in March, will include stripping 36 inches of road surface, installing new storm drains and waterlines, laying a new concrete surface and installing new, computer-controlled semaphores. The new concrete surface is expected to last 50 years with a minimum of maintenance.

The $2 million project will begin at Fifth South and continue to Seventh or Eighth North. Two blocks of University Avenue, both northbound and southbound lanes, will be under construction at once, while another two blocks simultaneously undergoes preparation for repairs.

Beal said State Street merchants lost as much as 50 percent of their business during construction, but the improved, wider road was worth the hassle.

"The end justified the means," he said. "At the time, we weren't so sure about it.

There were some substantial losses, but most of them (businesses) are ahead of where they were a year ago."

Merchants, who complained about the construction pace, only hurt themselves when they called the area a "war zone," Beal said. He said merchants scared away patrons with their complaints, and University Avenue businesses shouldn't make the same mistake.

Dan Nelson, UDOT District 6 director, called the University Avenue repairs "a tough project," but one that will enhance traffic flow and benefit merchants. He said construction will take about six months and two-block areas will be closed for only a month at a time.

City and AIM officials are considering detours, alternate parking areas, ombudsman services and ways to promote businesses, 150 of which will be affected.

Nelson said UDOT will enforce performance contracts to expedite the project's completion. Some merchants were doubtful, however, citing what they thought was a slow construction pace on State Street.

"It sounds like we're going into a similar situation" as faced by State Street merchants, said Robert Gledhill, owner of several University Avenue businesses.

"We'll do whatever we can within the cost frame," Nelson replied. But he ruled out a 24-hour construction schedule.

AIM Executive Director Linda Walton said planning is imperative. "With the support of UDOT, Provo City, the Chamber (of Commerce) and affected businesses, we will see fewer problems and the completion of a greatly needed road project."

Mayor Joe Jenkins said the city will do all it can to mitigate problems during construction.

"We're willing to work with you as best we can," he said. "We'll try to keep as much traffic on University Avenue as we can."