LACONIA — Dressed as a white bunny rabbit, Jean Cox stood on the sidewalk of Union Avenue on Thursday.
The owner of Art Escape wasn’t celebrating Easter early. She was encouraging northbound traffic to continue down the busy avenue and access nearby businesses, contradicting a city employee demanding that all motorists detour onto Mechanic Street.
Cox, pulling on the nose of her costume so she could talk, said the detour was playing havoc with her business at its busiest time of year. Customers come in to do craft work in ceramics, pottery, canvas, fused glass and clay.
“I don’t know why local traffic can’t go in there because there’s no construction there,” said Cox, who had the costume on hand after an Easter event for children.
“The city said that they were going to put up a sign that said, ‘no through traffic, or local business traffic.’ They told me they would take care of it today, but they haven’t.
“This week is Massachusetts vacation. Next week is New Hampshire vacation. But they said they would be doing this project until November.”
Other local businesses affected by the detour, which is to last until Memorial Day, include NAPA Auto Parts, Open Door Preschool and Childcare Center, Cantin Chevrolet, Aroma Joe’s Coffee, Bayside Service and Hughes Automotive.
Cars taking the detour rejoin Union Avenue at Stark Street, or they can make a left at Clinton Street, where a police officer is directing traffic and will allow cars to jog back south to access the detoured section of Union Avenue.
Cox said the detour doesn’t make sense because it takes cars off Union Avenue a half-mile before the construction location, just north of Elm Street.
Local resident Gordon King was heading down Union Avenue to Hughes Automotive Thursday and refused to detour.
“He wanted me to go around, but I drove around him,” King said. “He hollered at me to stop and I gave him the finger. There’s no need for this. It’s hurting every one of those businesses.”
Steven Cray, owner of Bayside Service, stopped in the middle of a brake job to discuss his frustration with the detour.
Cray said one of his customers asked the person with the detour sign to let him come through to the automotive business.
“He told him, ‘I want to go right there,’ and the guy said, ‘No, you’re lying,’” Cray said.
“I went to Public Works and asked them and they said they don’t want any cars going down, even though there is no construction until after Elm.”
Public Works Direct Wes Anderson said “there is a method to the madness.”
He said people often don’t understand the concept of local access and cause traffic jams when they try to use a construction zone as a through street.
Also, Mechanic Street is the logical street for a detour because it can handle trucks, which couldn’t navigate a detour on a smaller streets to the north, he said.
The detour is part of a $1.4 million repair project for one of the most heavily traveled roads in the city: Union Avenue from Elm to Stark streets.
The half-mile section of roadway will be rebuilt and work will be done to water, sewer and stormwater systems in the area. The area has been plagued with major potholes and sunken roadway.