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Businesses Pay the Price of Progress During Outer Loop Construction

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RALEIGH — Clogged connector roads can be a commuter's biggest headache. Interstate 540 is supposed to deliver relief, but some business owners say the road builders are solving one problem and creating another.

Building overpasses and interchanges for I-540, the Outer Loop, at Capital Boulevard is a huge, multi-million dollar project.

Crews will finish the big chore at the intersection by March 2002. Until then, drivers are feeling growing pains. And some businesses say clearing the way for the big road is cleaning them out.

"They've taken down all my signs," says hotel manager Jeff Blackstone. "They've blocked off two of my entrances; they've cut my restaurant business by over 50 percent, and they're cutting my room business because people can't figure out how to get in here."

Blackstone manages the Plantation Inn, a 94-room hotel that has been in the same location since the '50s.

But a relaxing hotel stay and the big construction project apparently do not mix. Blackstone had 60 employees when the work started. With the reduced business, he has cut his staff in half.

DOT engineers say they have tried to accommodate the hotel and other businesses along the 540 construction corridor, but they say they have a road to build, and that has to be their highest priority. The DOT says when the barrels are gone, businesses along Capital Boulevard will have a new flow of customers from I-540.

"We don't mind the progress," Blackstone says. "It's just a shame that they forget about how much taxes that we're paying and how many people we employ while they're doing it."

Many say the conflict is just the price of progress. But the price of progress, for some, is very steep.

I-540 stretches from Highway 70 to Leesville Road. Engineers say Leesville to Falls of Neuse should be completed by October. Falls of Neuse to Capital should be finished by March 2002.

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Mark Roberts, Reporter
Gil Hollingsworth, Photographer
Julie Moos, Web Editor

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