Businesses along Lakeshore Drive near Thunder Bay are struggling to attract the same volume of customers they had last year and they say the new highway is the culprit.

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John D'Angelo, owner of a gas station, has noticed a dramatic drop in traffic hours after Highway 11-17 opened. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

When Highway 11-17 opened in July, only one exit to Lakeshore Drive was accessible and there were no signs directing traffic to the Shuniah Business District.

"You either had to know the area, or you would never find us," said John D'Angelo, owner of Sony's Gas Bar.

D’Angelo said he noticed a dramatic drop in traffic within hours of the highway opening.

"The lack of license plates from other provinces or states was obvious," he said.

Liisa Karkkainen, owner of The Fish Shop, has laid off four employees since the highway began diverting traffic away.

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Liisa Karkkainen, owner of The Fish Shop, has laid off four employees since the highway began diverting traffic away. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

"In the ten minutes you and I have sat here, one vehicle has gone by. On a typical August afternoon, it should be a non-stop stream," she told a CBC Thunder Bay reporter.

Although she said she is not against the highway, Karkkainen said the Ministry of Transportation opened it prematurely. When Highway 11-17 opened in July, its exits were still under construction.

"That completely caught me off guard," she said.

D'Angelo says traffic has picked up after a sign was put by the Lakeshore exit directing travellers to the business district, but it'll be a while before he's ready to talk about the future.

He says it's still too soon to say how the new highway will affect his business and others, because the access roads onto Lakeshore Drive are still under construction. D'Angelo is waiting to see if traffic increases once the exits are paved and all the information signs are up.