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Move of 196 shortcut hurting businesses

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POSTED: May 20, 2010 4:11 p.m.
Area shrimper Joey Lawler could haul in the catch of the season tomorrow, but as long as the relocated Highway 196 interchange limits how customers can get to him, he wouldn’t see much profit from it.  
It’s been nearly two weeks since the Georgia Department of Transportation closed off access to the original 196 interchange at Highway 84 and opened up a new route with a full traffic light just a stone’s throw east, and Lawler said he has seen business drop significantly — so much so that he may have to pack up and relocate himself to avoid going out of business.
“Normally, I sell 350 pounds of shrimp in five days. Last week I sold 30  pounds in five days,” Lawler said. “This is how I feed my family.”
He said if no change comes and if business continues to falter, he’ll likely have to move to a more accessible location within a month at most. “I’ve been here going on 11 years. I’ve been looking at other places, but I don’t want to leave here.”
Lawler said he wishes GDOT would at least reopen the Highway 84 turn lane onto the old route to let customers get to him. More so he wishes the work on the new bypass had been completed before it was opened to traffic. “Why would you open up a bypass if it’s not completed? That’s crazy.”
Vatsal Pithwa, the manager at Jani’s Express convenience store and gas station, said his business also suffers because of the closure. “It has been affected a lot. I’m not blaming anyone, but I am the victim of the situation,” Pithwa said.  “I am losing thousands [of dollars] every week. I need help from someone.”
Pithwa said he knew the relocation was coming and that work would affect traffic to the store, “but not like this.” Access to the store was blocked even before the new turning point was opened, he said.
He has spoken with GDOT representatives four times and even met with them, and he has been told that the lane leading to the store would be built back up; however, no timeline was given. “My question is, how long should we continue like this and take a loss for our business?” Pithwa said.
Lawler wants to make sure his customers know that one access driveway, on the westbound side of 84, remains open and usable. Westbound drivers can turn right just before going over the railroad overpass, and eastbound drivers can turn left from the center lane.
“I know everybody around here,” Lawler said. “I want to tell them, please don’t get frustrated with the changes around here.”
GDOT officials were contacted with questions regarding the recent changes, but no response was received as of press time.
 

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