PERU – The closure of the bridge which provides access to one of the largest commercial areas in Peru has some businesses worried the move could cut into their profits.
Kelly Avenue Bridge is set to close today to all traffic and will remain closed until November as crews work on a major rehabilitation of the structure.
Miami County Highway Engineer Ken Einselen said the structure was built in the 1930s and is now one of the last truss bridges of its kind left in the state.
He said the $1.8-million project underway on the bridge includes repainting the structure, replacing the joints, overlaying the pavement and fixing some of the abutments.
The bridge spans the Wabash River on the city’s west side and provides the main access point into the city from U.S. 31, connecting South Business 31 to Main Street.
The area around where the bridge enters the city includes a slew of restaurants, banks, retail stores and Kroger, which is one of the few grocery options in Peru.
Now, some of those businesses worry the six-month closure of the structure could hurt their sales and jeopardize their profits for years to come.
Kevin Dunn, general manager of the Wings Etc., which is located a block from where the bridge enters the city, said he anticipates the bridge closure having a serious impact on the number of customers coming to his restaurant.
“We’re not thrilled about it, for sure,” he said. “We’re a destination, so hopefully we’re enough of a destination that people will drive out of their way to come see us.”
Dunn said there’s no doubt barring access from Business 31 will have an immediate impact on foot traffic into the eatery, but he also worries the effects of the bridge closure could linger if customers’ driving patterns change.
“We can survive in the short term, but if the patterns change, I don’t know if we can,” he said. “The only hope we have is keeping some people from going across the bridge and driving into Kokomo. But it’s also keeping everyone else from coming to this side of town.”
Amelia Anderson, manager of Casey’s General Store located just east of the bridge, said she has the same worry. She said regular customers, who stop at the convenience store before heading out of town for work have told her they won’t be back until the bridge reopens.
“They usually stop in the morning to get coffee and a donut and then make a bee line out to the bridge,” she said. “Now, the ones who stop every morning have been telling me, ‘I’ll see you in November.’”
But Connie Wilson, a manager at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, located in the strip mall directly beside the bridge, said she doesn’t think the road closure will hurt business. She said most of their customers are from Peru and aren’t coming from U.S. 31.
“I don’t think it will affect us tremendously,” she said. “I see all small impact, but never big. I’m not too worried about it, honestly.”
County Engineer Einselen said he hopes the bridge closure has a minimum impact on local businesses, but regardless of the impact, the bridge rehabilitation must be done. He said it’s been over 30 years since the structure has been painted or had any major repairs.
“It’s a necessity. It has to be done,” he said. “It’s safer for the public and for the contractors to have the bridge closed. By going to a full closure, we can hit it hard and hopefully be done sooner.”
Crews were scheduled to keep one lane of traffic open on the bridge through May, but contractors changed the project schedule and decided to close the road sooner than expected, Einselen said.
Now, Casey’s manager Anderson said local businesses near the bridge hope sales don’t slump too much in the wake of the six-month shutdown.
“I’m just hoping the customers who can’t come in the morning will still stop in and see us on the weekend,” she said. “We’ll just do the best we can.”
The official detour around the closure has drivers heading west on Logansport Road to U.S. 31 then south to Business 31. Einselen said emergency responders will use River Road to gain access to the south side of the bridge.
County officials have been working to secure funding for the project since 2013. In total, the project will cost just over $2 million, which includes inspection fees. Federal funds will pay for 80 percent of the project, with county money paying for 20 percent.