The owner of Lakeland’s Motel 6 says the business lost more than $100,000 in the past year because two convoluted state road projects scared off customers.
That Motel 6 is in what’s probably among west Tennessee’s most desirable properties, off Interstate 40 at Exit 20. That exit usually has easy in and out access to the Motel 6 and a Super 8 motel, gas stations, and restaurants, including the customary Waffle House and Cracker Barrel.
Exit 29 is also the final stop before Memphis, which has one of the nation’s highest rates for violent crime, according to a recent report.
When Tennessee Watchdog looked at one Department of Transportation project last fall, the eastbound access ramp was closed and no signs were posted to direct people to any alternate routes.
Of the two TDOT projects, one involves $28 million worth of reconstruction work on the Exit 20 overpass and the surrounding interchange. The other project involves work on the nearby Huff N Puff Road, named after a Lakeland amusement park in the 1960s.
Motel 6 owner Hinesh Patel isn’t pleased.
“Road construction and taxes are two things that are killing my business. Most people see construction on the exit so they don’t take it. They can’t figure out where the road is going and in which direction. At one point to get here you have to weave through barrels, and that throws everybody off course, Patel said.
“Before when you came up into the exit you used to make a right turn and then you headed toward my hotel. Now when you get off the exit you will make a right turn and then go down the street, make a right turn again, go down another street, come to a stop sign and then a left turn takes you to the hotel. They’ve complicated things more than what they should have been.”
An employee at the nearby Super 8, who did not give her name, said her motel was also losing money. The general manager of that hotel did not return repeated requests for comment.
Patel says surrounding business owners tell him they’re losing money, too.
Patel estimates he has lost $100,000 based on an analysis of past years’ revenue. In contrast, he said his other hotels and motels in the Memphis area made more money in 2016 than 2015. He also said Lakeland primarily competes for business with Southaven, Mississippi, which is the last stop before Memphis on Interstate 55.
Lakeland City Manager Jim Atkinson said TDOT’s reconstruction project at the interchange is scheduled to finish in May.
Atkinson said he understands Patel’s sense of unease.
“I think this is a concern shared by many people,” Atkinson said.
“It’s a major construction project, so there will be some problems with access and we’re just helping to minimize them the best we can. These are our business owners we have to look out for, and I feel for them.”
But the work is needed, Atkinson said, because the city’s current population of 13,000 people is expected to increase to at least 18,000 in the next decade.
“Honestly, probably more than 50 percent of our tax revenue is generated from that interchange,” Atkinson said.
Huff N Puff Road, meanwhile, is in a severe state of disrepair, he added.
TDOT spokeswoman Nichole Lawrence said her agency gave business owners notice of the construction work.
“During the different phases of the project, property owners were met with and explained we only compensated for damages to property, not loss due to lack of business,” Lawrence said in an email.
Of the $28.4 million needed for the interchange reconstruction work, 80 percent comes from state coffers. Twenty percent comes from the feds. The remaining $2 million came from Lakeland taxpayers, Lawrence said.
TDOT officials awarded the contract work to the Nashville-based Bell & Associates, which had the lowest bid, Lawrence said.
As Tennessee Watchdog reported in 2010, a TDOT highway construction project caused the same type of access problems and loss of customers for business owners in Sevierville, near the Great Smokey Mountain National Park.
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