Business owners in Baraboo are complaining that while road upgrades in the area have improved traffic flow, they have also severely hurt their bottom line.
When the U.S. Highway 12 bypass opened between the Wisconsin Dells and Baraboo last fall, sales at Walt Smith's store fell quickly. The owner of the Baraboo Candy Company said he regularly had 125 to 250 daily sales last summer -- before the bypass opened -- but the cash register hasn't rung 100 times in a day once this year.
Most of the customers are tourists, who don't know how to access the local road, Smith said.
"Right now, I see a ghost town, what I used to see was a thriving metropolis," Smith said, while looking at the old road, now called County Highway BD. "Unfortunately, (the state) has put every business along this corridor in jeopardy."
The state Department of Transportation built the road, which whisks drivers from the north side of Baraboo to the south side of Lake Delton, to increase safety in the area. The state plans to add a bypass around the southern part of Baraboo later this decade.
Local drivers said it's easy to forget the businesses along the old highway, but the new road is much better.
"The only time I ever come this way is if I happen to be going to the Dells or the casino or something, otherwise I take the bypass every day," said Rachel Louis, of Juneau County, who has taken the stretch of road every weekday for 20 years. "I was driving past (those businesses) the other day and I was thinking, 'they have really got to be feeling the pain.'"
Four vehicles pulled into the Cenex gas station on County Highway BD over the 20-minute period a WISC-TV reporter was on-site Sunday afternoon.
More drivers would visit the businesses if there were signs on the bypass, but state regulators have stopped Smith's attempts to put them in place, he said.
"We've applied twice to get signage as an attraction, and they tell us we aren't an attraction," he said. "People stop and get their pictures taken with the cows, they come in and watch the video up here, and they do whatever else that makes this place attractive to them. Anyhow, we haven't been able to get signage."
Smith said he's considered how much longer the business can survive, but said he'll continue to fight for better visibility to prevent closing.
"We've made plans as to what we're going to try to make happen, and the Lord be willing, that will happen," he said. "Ultimately, we have closure somewhere along the way, but I don't want to close this business."