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Monday, Feb. 13, 2017

AN END IN SIGHT?

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Heavy traffic, slow sales almost over as long construction project nears fall completion

Long-suffering residents, commuters, area workers and business owners, frustrated by the obstruction and traffic flow problems on two major sections of Youree Drive and E. Kings Highway, are finally seeing the end in sight. The first part of the project, the intersection of E. Kings and Shreveport- Barksdale highways, has already opened.

Nader’s Gallery, an art gallery and custom framing shop that recently celebrated 34 years in business at 524 E. Kings, sits at ground zero of the construction project, which was discussed for decades before it finally started in the fall of 2015.

“As you can imagine, all of the construction has put a major strain on our business, but we have combatted the strain with a very aggressive advertising program along with in-store sales and promotions that have really had a positive effect.” Margaret Love, who owns Nader’s Gallery with her brother, Edward Nader, said.

As E. Kings Highway was widened, most area businesses lost parking spaces and landscaping to the construction and Nader’s was no exception.

“We lost 15 feet of parking lot, approximately 15 to 20 parking spaces, and all of our existing curbing, flowerbeds and landscape (including crepe myrtles planted more than 20 years ago) in addition to our monument sign. It was over a $60,000 investment,” Love said.

“This will definitely affect us if we decide to sell the real estate,” Love said, who has frequently run across the street to meet customers in the parking lot of Whataburger for drop off and delivery of purchases and framed artwork so people can avoid the disruption near one of the busiest intersections in East Shreveport.

“According to traffic counts captured by the Department of Transportation and Development in 2015 (the most recent data available), 19,451 vehicles pass through the section of E. Kings Highway approaching Youree Drive daily, (and) 20,468 vehicles pass through Youree Drive, just north of E. Kings,” Erin Buchanan, DOTD information officer, said.

Adding a lane and creating better turning lanes will help the traffic flow faster and make the two intersections safer for pedestrians and drivers, especially at E. Kings and Shreveport-Barksdale, which had a traffic island at the intersection that narrowed to a turn lane, Buchanan said.

“It was a very awkward design, and removal of that was a big part of the project,” Buchanan said.

Rain and soil conditions caused delays during the construction, but officials say they are pleased with the progress made so far. Utility work appeared to be a major sticking point, but the utility companies worked within the limits of the contract so the utility work did not cause delays, Buchanan said.

“During (the utility relocation part of) this process, the contractor moved forward with work that could be completed, ensuring that there was no stall in the project,” Buchanan said. “Engineers anticipate a fall 2017 completion date for the Youree/Kings project, depending on weather conditions,” she said.

“You can see more yards of concrete going down,” Michael Rister, the DOTD project engineer on the highway expansion project, said. Rain could cause delays because the soil is already unusually damp, he said.

“Because of that old river bed, the soil is already wet. It’s torture for the contractor to get any rain,” Rister said. “We have to expose that soil and dry it or put in new soil.” F.J. Burnell Inc. is the contractor on the project.

“The majority of the workers on the project have been extremely nice and accommodating, but I look forward to not having to answer the question, ‘When will this construction be finished?’” Love said.

– Kathleen Ward

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