Old Sterling merchants have erected their own signs directing customers to their businesses. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has placed directional signs on Route 28, detouring motorists through a series of rights and lefts to the commercial area.
Despite the signage, motorists are still having trouble finding 39 businesses in one of the oldest sections of Sterling.
The new Route 28/Church Road/Waxpool Road interchange has cut profits as much as 50 percent, merchants say. Plans to temporarily close the east end of Ruritan Circle and partially close Cedar Green Road are compounding the access problems.
"All of the customers say they can see you, but they can't get to you," Chris Bunch, owner of the Alpine Ski Shop, said Monday. "The signs are so small, it doesn't really help you."
Dan Tufts, manager of the Buffalo Wing Factory and Pub, agreed. "Signage doesn't help you if you can't get to where you want to go."
Betty Geoffrey, owner of Sterling Schoolhouse Antiques, said VDOT is closing one side of Ruritan Circle, which leads to her shop, for at least six weeks. She complained that merchants paid 20 percent more in county taxes for two decades to finance the interchange, because they were told that it would bring more business to Old Sterling. Her voice rising, she asked, "Twenty percent more on taxes for 20 years, for this?"
"It's bad. We've been here for 25 years. There's not a day, hardly, that goes by that people don't call and ask if we're still open," she said. "Nobody knows to take the detour."
THE PARTIAL-CLOVERLEAF interchange opened in December, replacing traffic lights and cutting off access from the south side of Route 28 onto Church Road. Completion is scheduled for mid-July, bringing additional traffic onto Church Road, but bypassing businesses that are now landlocked by the construction. Church Road was widened and reconfigured in conjunction with the interchange and a portion of the road was closed to through traffic.
Motorists traveling south on Route 28 have taken a detour, from Steeplechase Drive to Magnolia Terrace in the housing development Dominion Station to Church Road. The completion of the interchange this fall will negate the need for the detour.
Susan Shaw, VDOT Route 28 project manager, said Route 28 access to Cedar Green Road, which leads to Church Road via Shaw Road and Davis Drive, will be partially closed on or about July 11. In December 2006, the access point will be closed completely when a second interchange at Route 28 and Sterling Boulevard is built.
She said the east end of the Ruritan Circle will close on or about July 18 to lower the roadway's elevation by about three feet. To use a new detour as an alternative would make traffic worse, she said.
Shaw said VDOT, the Loudoun County the Supervisors' Public Safety Committee, and representatives of the Loudoun County Transportation and Economic development Departments continue to meet with businesses to consider access improvements.
MIKE CHEROK, owner of a building that leases space to Crest Books and Jack Lawlor Realty, said both tenants have decided to not renew their contracts. "The business owners and property owners paid for 75 percent of the road in there. "What we've done is pay for us to go out of business."
Cherok presented a petition with 1,400 signatures to the Board of Supervisors last month seeking permission to reopen a section of Church Road that has closed off access to businesses and to prevent closing the intersection of Route 28 and Cedar Green Road.
He was not optimistic. "The problem with VDOT is if there was a squirrel or a bird endangered, they would spend thousands of dollars on research to circumvent the area," he said. "All the small businesses are toast."
Scott York, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said they are trying to work out a solution. "Hopefully we can create a situation to make it more palatable to those businesses," he said. "I think we are going to be somewhat limited."
Bunch said he was angry, but "there is not much I can do," he said. "They aren't going to do anything with the roads. Their plans are set."
Shaw said VDOT and county officials are looking at the feasibility of 11 recommendations to improve access. Safety is a key consideration, she said.
Cherok said three moves are needed to keep the businesses open:
* Reopen the section of Church Road from Shaw Road to the Alpine Ski Shop.
* Back off plan to close the Route 28 entrance to Cedar Green Road.
* Widen and improve Shaw Road so tractor trailers can safely get to the businesses.
Closing Cedar Green Road would especially hurt businesses, such as Lindsay Volkswagen and Emilio's Brick Oven Pizza, Cherok said. Shaw Road is too narrow for industrial size trucks to travel, and homeowners are not going to tolerate having them drive through the Gables and the Trailside neighborhoods, he said. "Shaw Road isn't wide enough for two pregnant donkeys to pass."