Bridge Construction Impact

Bridge construction puts hurt
on businesses located on both sides

Impacted merchants say
no help was given as promised

By Tess Worrell
Contributing Writer

(December 2012) – Residents on both sides of the Ohio River eagerly anticipate the completion of the Milton-Madison Bridge – perhaps none so eagerly as the business owners at each end of the bridge. Altered traffic patterns have kept motorists and business owners alike hopping to adjust to the new routes. While some businesses have noted a loss of business due to both the construction and the new traffic flow, others have actually experienced an increase.

Ramp Paving

Photo by Don Ward

Paving of the ramp on the Madison, Ind., side of the Milton-Madison Bridge began in late November. Officials hope to re-route motorists in mid-February onto the new ramps to access the new bridge while still in its temporary position.

Business owners from both ends of the spectrum, however, agree that the new bridge should bring higher traffic and more business – a win for everyone.
Susan Koerner, who co-owns Key West Shrimp House in Madison, Ind., with her husband, Scott, says that the rerouting of traffic has actually been very good for their business. “Traffic now goes right by our restaurant, so people are driving by that have never seen the restaurant before. It makes for awesome free advertising, which is a great benefit.”
The only downside of the rerouting has been the loss of parking. “We used to be able to park cars on both sides of Ferry Street, but they had to take those lanes away because of the increased traffic. That’s made parking difficult. But Kathie (Petkovic) at the Riverboat Inn has been wonderful. She lets our employees and customers park at her place. Once we figured out the parking, everything else has gone well,” says Koerner.
Koerner also emphasizes the benefit of the new bridge. “We can’t wait for it to get done. It will be a huge boost for Madison and for business.”
John Kinman, owner of Fillin’ Station Liquors in Madison, echoes Koerner’s enthusiasm for the coming bridge. “Once the bridge is completed, I look for there to be a lot more traffic,” he says.
While he hasn’t seen the increase in business that Koerner has, he says that business has stayed pretty good. The decline has been far less than he anticipated. “We’re still the first liquor store as people come back into town, so we still do pretty well,” says Kinman.

Kevin Hudson

Photo by Don Ward

Kevin Hudson of Hudson Auto was given permission by Riverboat Inn owner Kathie Petkovic to park some of his vehicles for sale along the ramp leading to the bridge during construction.

The loss to business stems primarily from a reduced Friday night traffic. “From 4-7 p.m. traffic is backed way up. People just don’t want to cross the traffic to get here. That’s the time I can tell the impact the most. We’re down about 10-15 percent on Friday sales, which adds up because that’s a big night for us.
“Also, a lot of people just don’t want to fight the bridge while everything is going on. We get a lot of business from Trimble County because it’s a dry county. But with the construction, they just don’t bother coming over. That’s about the only two factors. Otherwise, we’ve stayed pretty much the same. I’ve been pretty pleased, actually.”
Kinman said he looks forward to the bridge completion and higher sales. “A lot of people just didn’t trust the old bridge and wouldn’t take it. This new bridge should fix that. I think we’ll see a lot more traffic, which should help us.”
Kinman also anticipates increased sales due to summer boat and RV traffic. “They couldn’t use the bridge last summer and that really hurt us,” says Kinman.
Kevin Hudson, owner of Hudson Auto Sales next door to Fillin’ Station Liquors, offers a different view. “Would ‘devastating’ be a good word?” he asks, rhetorically. “We make 90 percent of our sales from people driving by and seeing what they like. They turned us into a dead end street. We get no traffic,” says Hudson.
He notes that he is still has business but that the impact has hurt him greatly. Hudson eagerly anticipates the installation of the new ramps that are scheduled to open in early 2013 and will again route traffic in front of his business.
Hudson also acknowledges the help of Petkovic during this temporary hardship. “She let us park a few cars in her front yard along Vaughn Drive (near the temporary ramp to the bridge). I’ve made a few sales that way,” Hudson said.
Those sales, plus a few from computer listings, have kept Hudson’s business afloat. “There was supposed to be money to help businesses impacted by the improvements, but I haven’t seen any,” says Hudson. He says he will simply have to wait out the construction hoping that customers will return once the bridge is completed and traffic again runs in front of the auto lot.

Hudson cars

Photo by Tess Worrell

Kevin Hudson said his business has suffered from the bridge construction because much of his car sales were dependent upon drive-by traffic.

Businesses on the Kentucky side of the river seem to have universally taken a harder hit. Troy Burkhardt, owner of Milton Fast Lane B.P., says, “Business has been terrible. We’re probably 25 percent off. With traffic rerouted away from the station, it’s just too inconvenient for people to come back over here. Others don’t take the bridge at all because they don’t want to get caught in all the mess, especially the Friday evening traffic. Our volume is down, and that’s hurt us. There’s nothing we can do to offset it.”
The downturn comes from both the rerouting issue and from the ongoing curb construction that has the road in front of his store under construction. As part of the bridge project, crews are installing curbs in front of the gas station.
“Before, you could pull into the station anywhere along the road. With the new curbs, we’re going to be down to two entry points. I don’t know how that will affect us.”
Burkhardt’s major complaint is the lack of communication with business owners. “We don’t know about timing – when this (curb) job will be done. No one has told us who will maintain the new curbs or the shrubs they are putting in. There was supposed to be money for advertising for stores located at the end of the bridge, but we haven’t seen any. There has been zero communication,” says Burkhardt.
“That makes it hard to plan. I at least expected someone would come by just to at least give us an overview, but that never happened.” Burkhardt notes that at the beginning there was a lot of talk about help for the river businesses. He’s very disappointed that never happened.
At the same time, Burkhardt says he’s “tickled to death to be getting a new bridge.” He anticipates much greater traffic once the bridge is in place. “It will take three to five months to rebuild our customer base, but then it might be even better than before. We’re going to be fine until then, but we will be glad to have the bridge done.”
Kenny McCoy, owner of Riverside Produce, agrees. “Our business is down because we just aren’t getting the customers. There’s nothing we can do about that. We just hope the new bridge brings more business,” he says.
Neil Bryan, president of the Farmers Bank of Milton, noted that the impact for the bank has been more indirect. “We’ve had no direct negative impact. Traffic runs in front of the bank, and our customers are still able to get here. The only issue has been parking with the increased traffic. But we are the anomaly. Some of our customers have lost traffic due to traffic being diverted and to paving and construction. Their receipts are down, which affects profitability, and that has in turn impacted us in an indirect manner.”

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