Signaling just how much the Cedar Avenue Bus Rapid Transit construction project might affect businesses in the area, Dakota County already has begun the hand-holding process with business owners two years before the first lane closure goes into place.

County officials made a presentation to the Apple Valley Chamber of Commerce last week, emphasizing that while interruptions in normal business operations are inevitable, the county is determined to limit the impact as much as it can.

The $40 million construction project will include the creation of exclusive bus lanes and improvements at intersections. Work this year will be limited to the updating and relocation work by the 10 private utility companies that serve the area.

Road construction will begin in Lakeville in 2011 and make its way north on Cedar. The plan is to reach County Road 42 by the end of construction season in the fall of 2011, with work from County Road 42 to 138th Street picking up in the spring of 2012 and getting completed in the fall.

Gary Pahl, owner of Pahl's Market, a garden center in Apple Valley, told his fellow business owners they shouldn't all expect the worst when construction begins -- that there are ways to limit loss of business due to the construction.

He spoke of his experience during the widening to four lanes of County Road 46 a few years back. Pahl's Market is located at County Road 46 and Galaxie.

"We decided to spend three times as much on advertising as we normally would,'' Pahl said, and "people found us. A lot of them came up Galaxie. You just need to do a better job of marketing.''

Small businesses are being offered a helping hand from Apple Valley. The city has contracted with the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers (MCCD) to provide businesses with 10 or fewer employees and located within a half mile of Cedar Avenue free consulting services aimed at helping them deal with the potential loss of business revenue due to the construction.

"History shows that a lot of businesses are caught off-guard when a major road construction project is done,'' said Apple Valley community development director Bruce Nordquist. "After the fact, they say they wish they had a cash reserve or made some other adjustments six months before the project started.

"Some of them end up going out of business. This program will help provide that advance planning that is needed. We're trying to be proactive.''

The MCCD is a Twin Cities nonprofit organization focused on assisting neighborhoods with housing and economic development issues. Small businesses that sign up for the free service in Apple Valley will take part in a one-on-one meeting with MCCD staff to analyze their economic preparedness for the construction project. They also will receive a basic marketing plan tailored to their specific business.

Dean Spiros • 952-882-9203