There’s good news and bad news for Fish Creek business owners on the horizon. The good news is the the town is getting a brand new main street. The bad news is there will be a lot of pain before it gets completed.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation will begin resurfacing Highway 42 from the corner of Highway 42 and Spruce Street near Hide Side Corner Store, all the way to Country Walk Drive in Sister Bay. While the work will touch three municipalities, none will be impacted more than Fish Creek.
When construction begins in March 2019, Highway 42 will be completely closed to traffic at Shore Road, the entrance to Peninsula State Park. That hard closure will extend past Gibraltar Area Schools to the pedestrian crossing at the YMCA. There will be no access to Highway 42 from County F or Spring Road from March through early May.
That means customers trying to get to downtown businesses from the north will have to travel down County A to Peninsula Players Road, then take Highway 42 into Fish Creek from the south, adding about 10 minutes to the trip. Those coming from the south will have the same access as usual, but to proceed north they will have to exit by doubling back to the south and detouring around the construction via Peninsula Players Road and County A.
Denise Stillman, president of the Fish Creek Civic Association and owner of the Parkwood Lodge, located just north of the hard closure on Highway 42, said she is apprehensive but hopeful. Her family lives just two minutes from Gibraltar Schools, but during construction it will take about 15 minutes for her son to get to high school following the detour.
“It’s a short-term sacrifice for long-term gain,” Stillman said. “For May and June this is going to be really hard.”
If weather cooperates, the DOT hopes to complete the heaviest portion of construction near Gibraltar Schools in March and April, before many businesses open for the season. The hard closure is needed because the DOT will be installing storm sewers, adding sidewalks to both sides of Highway 42 from the Homestead Suites to the YMCA, and installing pedestrian medians near the Door Community Auditorium and the YMCA crossing.
“The closure is necessary to expedite the construction schedule,” said Jeremy Ashauer, DOT project manager. “As with most of our projects in Door County, the construction season conflicts with the tourism season. In order to minimize the impacts to the local communities and to complete necessary construction, we are using a hard closure to accomplish construction in a shortened construction period.”
After the work on the hill by Gibraltar Schools is completed in early May, traffic flows will open to County Road F and Spring Road, but the hard closure from County F north to the YMCA pedestrian crossing will remain in place through June.
Access to Gibraltar Schools will come via a temporary road from Gibraltar Road to the school entrance. Businesses located north of Gibraltar Road up to County A have concerns as well.
“Am I happy about it? Absolutely not,” said Bruce Alexander of Alexander’s Restaurant. “But I don’t know that there was any other option. I’m more worried about downtown Fish Creek, because it’s going to deter people from going into Fish Creek at all.”
“All of our partners on the north end end, we’re going to have to work together,” Stillman said. “We’re fortunate with the lodge that a lot of our business is reservation- or destination-based. But we also get a lot of drive-by business. We’re very aware of the fact that we’re going to be on a little island.”
The Fish Creek Civic Association, Town of Gibraltar, and a special ad hoc signage committee have been working to ease the impact of construction on area businesses.
Shane Solomon of Julie’s Park Cafe and Motel said the signage committee has come up with two types of signage to direct customers to area businesses. One is general category signage (lodging, gas, shopping, dining) to be placed at all the intersections along the official detour route. That detour is designed to take traffic down County E in the Village of Egg Harbor, to County A. That is the official detour because county trunk roads are designed to handle heavy truck traffic.
Solomon said there will also be business-specific signage used for those most directly impacted by the hard road closure. The process isn’t new for Solomon, who sat on the Sister Bay Village Board when it slogged through three years of highway construction earlier this decade.
“We’ve looked at that a lot, thinking about what worked, what didn’t, and what we wished we had done differently,” he said. “We’re trying to learn from that.”
Town Chairman Dick Skare said signage rules will be relaxed during construction to allow for open flags and other options to help businesses get through a difficult year.
On the plus side, Fish Creek won’t endure the prolonged construction Sister Bay did. No construction will take place from July 1 through Labor Day weekend, and work will only take place on weekdays in the fall. The entire project is scheduled for completion by the end of fall, 2019.
“It’s not going to help business, but it’s going to be a lot like Sister Bay went through, where when it’s finally done it will be well worth it,” said Kevin Bauldry, general manager of the Homestead Suites.
For more on the resurfacing project, including detour maps, renderings, and timelines, visit doorcountypulse.com/tag/fish-creek-42-project.