Businesses, like the Sandbar at the Selma Marina shown above, speculate on whether the bridge closing will affect their customers during lunch hour. -- Ashley Johnson
Businesses, like the Sandbar at the Selma Marina shown above, speculate on whether the bridge closing will affect their customers during lunch hour. -- Ashley Johnson

Hard route for business, detour could affect customers

Published 10:51pm Monday, June 17, 2013

When the Alabama Department of Transportation announced they were closing the bridge over Valley Creek on Dallas Avenue for replacement, several businesses did not immediately see a reason to worry. But when the bid for the project appeared, ALDOT advertised the project as one that would last an approximate eight months, commuters and business owners alike began speculation on how the closing would negatively affect them. This project also means detouring traffic through Hooper Drive and J.L. Chestnut Boulevard.

Owner of the Sandbar restaurant, Gordon McLendon said while he knows the project is necessary because the bridge is so old, he fears it could cut his lunch crowd by as much as 50 to 75 percent because of the Sandbar’s location on the marina, right next to the road closure.

“If we would have known this project was coming up we might have delayed the (Sandbar) project for another year. Instead of opening this year, we might have postponed this until 2014,” McLendon admitted. “I mean we are talking about eight months where our lunch crowd could be cut 50 to 75 percent. We really don’t know what the impact is going to be, but we do not see a positive impact of any sort with this bridge closing as far as enticing our business.”

ALDOT released a statement Monday, saying the bridge was built in 1927 and is up for replacement by the state’s standards. In previous discussions, ALDOT has assured those who travel over the bridge that while it is safe, it needs to be replaced because of its age. The project was let on May 31. The bridge on Dallas Avenue is labeled as functionally obsolete due to its condition and age.

Tony Harris, a spokesperson for ALDOT told the Times-Journal in January that the department has more than 5,400 bridges throughout the state and each of those bridges are routinely inspected.

McLendon fears that with the bridge closing, many of the Sandbar lunch customers who come from the downtown area — from law offices, insurance companies, city government agencies and banks — might be discouraged to dine in West Selma, especially those who only have one hour for lunch as the detour route will likely tack on 15 minutes of travel.

Swift Drug owner Buddy Swift has similar concerns about the location of his business, but regarding the opposite flow of traffic. He wonders if those who visit his location on Broad Street for convenience and come from Orrville and Safford, will be discouraged to travel the detour route.

“The thing that really scares me is just the Crescent Hill project and the paving on Cahaba Road,” Swift said, about the ATRIP projects that are scheduled to go on at the same time as the bridge closure this summer. “If those things coincide together, it’s really going to paralyze people coming into town from Orrville and Safford, and from the other side of that bridge.”

Old Cahaba Road and J.L. Chestnut Boulevard are currently the detour routes around the bridge closure, so Swift also fears for the timeliness of his free prescription drug delivery service to homes on the west side of Selma.

“The main reasons people shop with us is our location, and if you have to go six miles out of your way to get to our business,” Swift said, “you will be more likely to stop shopping with us and go somewhere that is more convenient.”

Scott Brech, owner of Brech Marine said the closure will not necessarily slow down their sales, but they could have to rework how they conduct test drives of boats from the Selma Marina.

“We normally go straight over the Valley Creek Bridge to get to the marina and it is going to lengthen our route,” Brech said. “It is definitely going to be an inconvenience. I understand the need for the bridge to be replaced and be updated for safety, but for us in the summer … it would have been a whole lot better if they had done it in the winter.”

Brech said his employees that do boat repairs, test the boats at the Selma Marina, which is the closest marina to their location on Highway 80 East. For Brech, taking a detour to the marina would mean his employees would have more time on the clock — time that would be more costly for him — so Brech said they may have to look into using another boat ramp for the time being.

In addition to sharing their concerns, business owners said they will not worry for now about something out of their control that has to be done.

“We are just going to have to find a way — make some advertising and marketing strategies — to keep ourselves on people’s minds for lunch,” McLendon said. “The city government has been very supportive of us and everything we have done, but this is beyond their control. This is a state project and a state detour route.”

Debra Hancock, manager of Hancock’s Country BBQ said she too just hopes customers will be loyal and take the extra time to travel to her restaurant on Alabama Highway 22, past the bridge closure.

“There is not a whole lot you can do about it,” Hancock said. “You can’t worry about things you can’t control. I just hope people will take that little extra time.”

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