Charlotte County economy hit hard by Highway 1 twinning

The St. Andrews Chamber of Commerce says business across Charlotte county dropped 35 to 70 per cent last year, largely because of the completion of the highway twinning project between Saint John and the U.S. border.

St. Andrews Chamber of Commerce makes case for new signs on Route 1, calls situation "an emergency."

The St. Andrews Chamber of Commerce is pushing the New Brunswick government for proper signage and a tourist information centre along Highway 1 to attract customers.

The group said business across the southwest region dropped 35 to 70 per cent last year, largely because of the completion of the highway-twinning project between Saint John and the U.S. border.

Bob Charlton, vice president of the chamber, said the situation for business could worsen if something isn't done soon.

"There are a lot of businesses that have suffered such a drop, that quite honestly … they won't be in business much longer," he said.

Angela Tessier owns Ossie's Lunch, a restaurant located in Bethel, a few kilometres away from St. Andrews.

She said her business, coming up to 56 years in operation, has been cut in half since the Route 1 project was finished last fall.

"The first day the highway was open it was like a ghost-town," she said. "I expected to see tumbleweeds roll down the street."

"None of us could even believe how drastic the change was."

Businesses bypassed

Tessier said her location has now become too easy to pass through.

"There’s nothing to encourage [drivers] to stop in St. Stephen, St. Andrews, whether it be our exit off the highway, St. George, Pennfield —– I mean we’re just being passed by."

The chamber's president, Dan Burley, said Charlotte County tourism is facing an emergency situation.

He said the St. Andrews economy is also hurting because of the ongoing closure of the Algonquin Hotel, which is undergoing a $25-million renovation.

Burley said because of the desperate outlook, the group should be granted immediate approval for improved signage.

And he said a tourism centre needs to be erected "within five kilometres" of the new Canada-U.S. border at St. Stephen.

"It can be done within weeks, not years or months. It can be done immediately using some temporary office space," said Burley.

The chamber made that pitch to Finance Minister Blaine Higgs in St. Stephen on Monday.

Burley said Higgs offered to broker a meeting with Tourism Minister Trevor Holder and Transportation Minister Claude Williams to work out a solution in time for the summer tourist season.