NAPLES – For Arlene and David Stetson, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

The owners of the Augustus Bove House, a bed and breakfast slightly set back from the businesses along the causeway, believe they’ve lost at least a half-dozen customers because of construction on the bridge that started last fall.

Traffic cones and flaggers in neon vests guide cars around the trucks and loaders that crowd the causeway — now a dirt road dotted with dips and potholes.

Arlene Stetson said she’s watched people pull up to the house and call from their cars to cancel their reservations.

“They don’t want to spend their time in a room with a view and this is what they look at,” she said.

In the coming weeks, the crews will be working on the intersection of routes 302 and 114 — right outside their business.

“When you have a bulldozer on your front lawn, it’s not very attractive,” said Stetson.

The $8.4 million Maine Department of Transportation project will replace the 60-year-old swing bridge with a fixed-span bridge that will be elevated, so most boats can get through and traffic won’t have to stop for them, like it does now.

No one disputes that the finished product — designed to have green space, a walkway and a sea wall — will make downtown Naples more attractive. And that should draw more people to the souvenir shops, ice cream stores, restaurants and cafes that line the causeway, which overlooks Brandy Pond on one side and Long Lake on the other.

The inconvenience of the construction, however, has some business owners wondering if they’ll survive long enough to see the causeway project completed in the spring of 2013.

“Right now, it’s killing me. Every day it’s a struggle to keep the doors open,” said Mike Bray, owner of Bray’s Brew Pub & Eatery, located on the eastern end of the causeway.

Bray said he’s spoken to people who live on either side of the bridge who say they avoid the area altogether.

“They just don’t come to Naples anymore because of the construction,” he said.

Open to only one lane of traffic, the causeway is currently holding up cars for as long as 20 minutes during rush hour, said Mark Latti, spokesman for the MDOT. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, two lanes will open back up again, Latti said.

For that reason, seasonal business owners say they’re not too concerned about losing customers this summer.

“There’s the fear factor out there. ‘It’s going to be tied up for hours. I’m going to avoid Naples,’” said Barbara Clark, executive director of the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce. “There’s not going to be construction holding up traffic.”

Bray’s and the Augustus Bove House are two of the few year-round businesses in the lakeside tourist town. Between seasonal residents and vacationers staying on campgrounds and in cottages, Naples’ population of 3,500 quadruples in size during the summer, said Clark.

As Memorial Day approaches, the shops and eateries along the causeway will open for the season.

Frances Keen, owner of Bayview Cabins, said a few fishermen scheduled to stay there this past weekend were her first customers of the year.

Although it’s been difficult for her and her husband to get out of their driveway, where the construction crew was working last week, Keen isn’t worried it will affect her business.

“We have our reservations that we usually get in the summer,” she said. “It’s just been an inconvenience.”

Clark said Naples Main Street, a group of residents involved in projects that promote the downtown, recently distributed fliers rebutting rumors that it will be difficult to walk, drive and park near the causeway this summer.

She said the group is encouraging local businesses to post the fliers on their doors and websites.

The Causeway Restoration Committee, formed by the town, has worked with the MDOT to improve traffic flow and put up signs on both ends of the causeway announcing that businesses are still open.

The project was designed to have the least impact during the summer, said Bob Neault, chairman of the committee. As for the year-round businesses, he said, “there’s no question it’s going to be difficult.”

But he said he can’t imagine businesses closing as a result of the construction. And once the project is finished, he said, the improved walkways and landscaping, as well as new events planned, should bring more people to Naples than before the construction started.

“When we get to the other side of this project, all of these businesses will see the fruits of this labor,” he said.

Bray, however, is not convinced.

“Will it be worth it in the long run? I guess time will tell,” he said. “I’m not overly optimistic about that.”

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at:

[email protected]