ELDERSBURG — If you've driven through the intersection of Sykesville and Liberty roads, you know it's a hassle.
The road is torn up, the air is dusty, piles of gravel and dirt sit along the berms and orange barriers are there for the dodging.
It's hard to pull into the Exxon station on the corner to fill your gas tank or into the parking lot at the Corner Package Goods storeto buy lottery tickets.
The makeshift driveways leading to businesses in the construction area look confusing, which business owners say has discouraged customers in the year since the road work began.
"It's been crazy," said John F. Gillette, manager at Liberty Discount Appliances Inc. "It's really hurt our business."
Gillette said sales are down at least 50 percent.
Leon Holzman, owner of Corner Package Goods, a liquor store and carryout sandwich shop, said he wasforced to lay off four part-time employees the second week of January, which means he now works 65-hour weeks.
"I'm working more and making less," he said.
"I'm in favor of the road construction. I know you have to live with the pain for progress, but it's taking so long," Holzman said.
His business has been off 25 percent, he said. He attributes the losses to the construction, not the slowed economy,because he said he sees his customers buying liquor and lottery tickets at competing stores out of range of the construction.
Robert L. Fisher, area engineer for construction for the State Highway Administration in Frederick, said the $4.4 million project should be finished in July. It began March 5, 1990, and is 17 days behind schedule, he said.
The state is widening Route 26 beginning 1,100 feet east of the intersection and proceeding 1.3 miles west, he said. Seventy-eight percent of the project was completed as of Monday, he said.
Every day, tens of thousands of cars pass through the intersection, acrossroads for workers commuting to Baltimore. On Route 32, traffic studies show 20,400 cars pass by on an average day; on Route 26, the number is 29,500, Fisher said.
Tom DeBaugh, owner of Eldersburg Exxon, said he's not optimistic more of them will stop at his station even after the road work is finished. The state plans to install 4-foot-wide medians at each corner, which will prevent some drivers from pulling into his station.
"Convenience is the name of the game," he said.
Gas sales are down about 30 percent in the last year; repair business in his shop is off 15 percent to 20 percent, DeBaugh said.
"It's been a hard time because people avoid the intersection. We're not making anything. We're just hanging in there," he said.
Fisher said the medians will be installed to make the intersection safer.
Bruce I. Reamer, owner of Salerno's on Liberty Road, said he's used the slow period to make renovations to the restaurant and expandthe menu.
"In the end, it (the new road) will help," he said.
Holzman and Gillette said they've been doing extra advertising since the construction began to try to entice customers to their stores.
"People just don't want to deal with the construction," Gillette said.
Fisher said the state and its contractors try to make access tobusinesses in construction areas as convenient as possible, but the state does not compensate owners for lost business.