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Businesses still hurting over O'Neal Lane work

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BATON ROUGE - After a delay of more than two years, construction on O'Neal Lane is scheduled to be finished by the end of February. However, business owners in the area say the damage has already been done.

The $20 million project is part of the city-parish Green Light Plan. Work started on O'Neal Lane in Sept. 2009 and was supposed to be finished in 2011, but project officials say weather and utility work pushed back the completion date.

Billy Francioni owns the Texaco Food Mart on O'Neal Lane. He says he's lost half his customers since construction began.

"All the little retail businesses, especially mine for sure, is 50 percent. Being directly off the interstate and it's just very hard getting in an out," he said.

Dr. Phuong Dinh of Vue Eyecare says other businesses weren't able to stay afloat during the down time.

"Well we're thankful that we're still kind of around, because there were some businesses that have been here a long time and they had to end up closing their doors because they were just hurting too bad," he said.

Baton Rouge Councilman Buddy Amoroso says when the construction is finally finished in February the blame game will begin.

"It's going to be like an old Mexican standoff," he said. "Everybody's going to be pointing the gun at each other, pointing the finger at each other, and at the end of the day the judge is going to have to decide if there's liquidated damages and who's guilty. I believe the city might have to bear some of that responsibility of liability."

Some businesses want someone to take the blame. Others just want to move on and get back to normal.

"I do think somebody should take responsibility for this, because it does affect other people's lives. Every time it gets pushed back it affects a lot of small business owners who are going to be hurting because people just don't want to come to this area," said Dinh.

"That's crying over spilled milk," said Francioni. "Yes, it would be nice to find out what happened. More importantly, let's get it done and hopefully it's gonna be done correctly and hopefully the future is gonna be here and we can continue to grow."

Amoroso says he's researching to see what went wrong and plans to meet with all parties involved so something like this doesn't happen in Baton Rouge again.


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