Business is off nearly 20 percent at Birdie’s Food and Fuel in Paradis, a decline that co-owner Mike Hammad blames on the newly installed raised median just outside his door on U.S. Highway 90.
“It’s hurting our business,” Hammad said.
Motorists are bypassing his location to avoid maneuvering in a U-turn to get back on the highway headed east for New Orleans, he said.
Hammad said the economic blow forced him to let go two employees last year.
“When business goes down, I can’t pay my employees,” he said.
When construction started on the $2.1 million median project in July, Birdie’s and the neighboring business, Torres Service Center, both reported a major drop in sales.
Owner Mike Torres said, “It killed my business.”
In addition to dealing with lower sales at his auto repair shop that’s been in Paradis 20 years this month, an angry Torres said one of his driveways was taken as part of the project, without his knowledge or approval, that served as a shoulder that let people ease into this location from the highway.
“They took the wrecks off the center lane and moved them to the outside lane,” he said.
Torres maintained the lanes aren’t wide enough or lack the turning radius to make a turn. He couldn’t maneuver his own Ford Dually through the median without rolling over it.
“It’s not a well thought out program, whoever designed it,” he said.
Also, people have started using his business parking lot to avoid the U-turn lane on the highway, which also infuriates him.
“There are horns being blown and people locking up their breaks not watching people make the right turns off the highway,” Torres said. “You can see the skid marks in front of my business now.”
Paul Hogan, at-large parish councilman, said he got complaints about the project before the roadwork began and they were all from area businesses expressing these very fears about lost business.
“It is what it is,” Hogan said. “Motorists just have to come to terms with it.”
This is how it is now.
But, in 2014, Hogan and Greg Miller, state legislator for District 56, sat down with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) requested a striped median similar to the one in Boutte that allows motorists to merge into traffic and turn into businesses.
But Hogan said the DOTD maintained the raised median was a safer option to avoid head-on collisions.
Hogan, then and now, said the only good thing about a raised median is the apparent reduction in accidents that he’s observed in the area. But he also steadfastly maintained a striped median would have had the same effect.
At St. Charles Lighting in Paradis, owner Blake DeBautte said he was initially concerned about a raised median’s effect on his business, but he’s come to accept it as a needed safety measure.
“All in all, I wasn’t happy about it at first,” DeBautte said.
He anticipated it sending rainwater into this business, but the DOTD was responsive to his concern.
“I personally like them,” he said of the raised median. “I’ve seen many accidents on the highway over the years and, for that reason, I like the median. It’s dangerous not having that turning lane with cars so fast … at 70 mph.”