SALT LAKE CITY — Businesses along North Temple have been in "survival mode" for months — trying to hold out through the next 12 months of projected construction that will eventually produce a new light-rail line and revitalize the corridor between 300 West and Salt Lake City International Airport.
And by various accounts, many local business owners have struggled to stay afloat.
"Everybody is keeping their chins up, but they are getting construction weary," said Bill Knowles, ombudsman for Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake Chamber. "It's been a long slog."
Knowles said area restaurants have been most heavily impacted during the construction period. Case in point, the owner of the popular Red Iguana Mexican eatery said earlier this year that his establishment was down about 1,000 patrons per month — which translated to about $30,000 in lost revenue.
He was unavailable for comment this week. Most other restaurants and retailers along the affected corridor are national chain outlets and their managers declined to comment.
The closure of the North Temple bridge and viaduct between 300 West and 600 West has had the biggest impact, according to Utah Transit Authority spokesman Gerry Carpenter.
The viaduct portion of the project accounted for $71 million of the $350 million Airport TRAX extension. That part of the project has forced time-consuming detours, resulting in many potential customers deciding to avoid the area altogether.
But Carpenter said that issue could be resolved in the not so distant future with work on the bridge scheduled to be completed later this summer and the primary access to the west North Temple area is expected to reopen by late August.
"That will be a huge relief to businesses on North Temple and to residents who travel between the east and west sides of Salt Lake City," Carpenter said.
The $350 million extension is scheduled to be operational by 2013, he said. Businesses along the University TRAX corridor were similarly impacted during the time that light-rail construction was going on along 400 South a few years ago, he added.
Work on the Airport TRAX project is currently on budget and ahead of schedule, Carpenter said, but outside factors could influence construction over the coming months.
The airport line is one of five rail projects UTA has on its construction docket. The others include the Mid-Jordan TRAX extension, the West Valley TRAX line — both due to begin operation on Aug. 7 — the proposed Draper TRAX extension and the FrontRunner commuter-rail line that will run from downtown Salt Lake City to Provo.
"Our commitment has always been to have all of these extensions done by no later than 2015," Carpenter said.
Both the Mid-Jordan and West Valley light-rail lines are already in the testing phase as they prepare for the official launch next month, while the other lines are expected to come online over the next two years, Carpenter said.
Meanwhile, the city leaders are doing what they can to mitigate the impact the construction is having on businesses in the area. But, when it comes down to it, patience is the key.
"The combination of the viaduct closing (and the TRAX construction) has certainly been challenging, but the viaduct opening will provide … the conduit (for improved traffic flow)," said Salt Lake City economic development director Bob Farrington.
Knowles said marketing campaigns have been somewhat helpful in promoting businesses along the affected corridor. However, he added that despite their best efforts some have still seen steep declines in patronage and consequently revenues.
"Add in the recession that almost exactly coincided with the start of the project … the timing couldn't have been worse," he said.
While Knowles said there is no empirical evidence that the project has caused any businesses to shut their doors, it has definitely been a difficult ordeal for many of the local merchants.
"They are keeping a pretty good attitude all in all … they just want to see it over," Knowles said.