Prior to July 31, Circle J Food & Gas was thriving, with customers purchasing as much as 2,000 gallons of gasoline a day. Two doors down at Mid Valley Smoke Shop, the store typically brought in around $350 every day, and at Los Gallos, just across the intersection of N. Golden State Boulevard and Fulkerth Road/West Hawkeye Avenue, the restaurant was prospering, selling $2,000 worth of food daily.
Now, the three businesses don’t expect to last until December.
“I have no money to pay for anything,” said Afif Ramahi, who helps his sister manage Mid Valley. “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stay open until Christmas.”
It was the end of July when the intersection influencing traffic to all three businesses closed for much-needed safety improvements, but the estimated mid-September completion date has come and gone, leaving Ramahi and other surrounding business owners without the influx of cars that typically travel down Golden State Boulevard.
Since July 31, Circle J owner Nirmal Singh has lost over $10,000 in profit, he said, and now he sells as little as 300 gallons of gasoline per day.
“We are behind. The expenses are the same, but we’ve lost too much business,” said Singh. “It’s going to be very hard to stay open. I owe the gas people money, and I have none.”
Ramahi now only brings home less than $100 in profit daily, and owes the building’s landlord $7,000 in past rent dues. Los Gallos owner Sergio Gutierrez only makes between $100 and $200 per day now that the intersection is closed, he said, and as a result, it’s a struggle to keep up with the restaurant’s bills.
“TID and PG&E keep billing me,” said Gutierrez. “They’re not going to say, ‘Hey Sergio, don’t worry about it. The construction is still going on so we’re going to lay off you for a while.’”
It’s been 72 days since the intersection project began, with promises of dual left turn lanes from all directions, bike lanes and sidewalk, installation of a new traffic signal system with advanced railroad preemption capabilities, intersection lighting improvements, pavement rehabilitation and new traffic striping.
While businesses on Fulkerth Road west of N. Golden State Boulevard are mainly client-based and haven’t been hit hard by the closure, the 72 days have taken their toll on Los Gallos, Mid Valley and Circle J. In the Los Gallos parking lot, cars looking for a shorter detour speed through the space, said Cindi Fleming of Halo Salon by Bliss, and Kathy Dhanowa of nearby Prime Lending said the lack of traffic has made her fearful of walking through the shopping center lot at night.
According to City of Turlock Engineer Mike Pitcock, the struggling businesses have longer to wait, with construction predicted to continue into November. Pitcock said that the project has been particularly difficult due to the coordination and amount of work provided by Turlock Irrigation District and Union Pacific Railroad. The two companies should be finished with their work this week, he said, giving access for work on the concrete curb, gutter, sidewalk, paving, striping and signal work.
“We are hopeful they can get this all done by November, but it could extend into November a few weeks,” said Pitcock. “We are sorry for the inconvenience this has caused the community.”
Ramahi, Singh and Gutierrez all agree that their businesses will not last until mid-November. Gutierrez and Singh have spoken about the bleak outlook on several occasions.
“The poor guy at the gas station…I talked to him and he said, ‘Sergio, I’m dying over here,’” said Gutierrez. “I said, ‘I know you are. You’re not the only one.’”
The business owners have called upon the City to help their situation, they said, and in response, more signage alerting travelers that the businesses are still open has been added. Ramahi hopes that the City will compensate the businesses for money lost during the closure, since it went on so much longer than originally anticipated.
The Fulkerth and Golden State Boulevard project isn’t the first time the City of Turlock has had trouble making construction timelines on a major intersection.
In August 2016, a section of Monte Vista Avenue west of Golden State Boulevard was closed as Union Pacific replaced its tracks and concrete panels within the crossing. The City of Turlock was informed the work would raise the tracks half an inch to an inch and prepared the roadway accordingly. When the work was completed, it was apparent that the tracks were raised more than one inch and the concrete panels were not flush with each other.
A bid was put out by the City to repave the road near the tracks and George Reed Inc. completed the project in December. While the new gradient made the ride over the tracks less chaotic for motorists, there remained a significant bump where the rail panels were misaligned.
Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth called on the help of local congressman Jeff Denham, who worked with the City and Union Pacific to help rectify the matter.
Union Pacific replaced 240 feet of concrete beds a week before Christmas and installed new rail and ties, and throughout the duration of the project, the intersection was closed for about 15 days.
That project received the attention from the City that Gutierrez believes the Golden State intersection deserves, he said.
“The last thing I want to do is create a scene and be the bad guy, but if we’re a community that’s supposed to be united, then they should be united and help us out,” said Gutierrez. “Two more weeks of this and I’m going to have to shut down, probably for good.”