ELKHART — Some are breathing sighs of relief now that work on S.R. 19 north of the St. Joseph River is complete.
“We are so happy that the work is done,” said Edna Padilla, operator of Shekinah Asian Grocery Store and Deli, a business hit hard by work on the roadway this past summer and fall. “We just need more customers.”
That doesn’t mean the massive road overhaul project is complete. Work has yet to be done on the busy commercial corridor south of the St. Joseph River, and construction will resume there once the weather improves, perhaps in the spring, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.
As such, merchants on that section of roadway are mindful, bracing themselves, though they’re not panicking. Call it the lull before the storm.
“Ninety percent of my customers know it’s coming,” said Rebecca Allen, manager of Low Bob’s Discount Tobacco at a strip mall at the Indiana Avenue-Nappanee Street intersection. “They may not come as often, but they will come in.”
‘READY TO SERVE’
The $14.84 million INDOT project calls for reconstruction of S.R. 19 — also known as Nappanee Street — from Lusher Avenue north to around Beardsley Avenue. A center turn lane is to be added along most of the stretch to permit left-hand turns without causing traffic backups.
Work started last May, initially wreaking havoc on the section from the St. Joseph River north to Beardsley Avenue. Traffic was winnowed from two lanes in each direction to one, orange and white construction barrels sprouted to funnel traffic and congestion frequently flared as motorists jockeyed for a place on the roadway.
That part of the project wrapped up in late November, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
Padilla, operator of the deli and grocery store, said business was hit hard due to the work and she’s optimistic it will spring back now that the road in front is back in shape. Already, she’s gotten feedback from customers, who say it’s much easier to enter and exit her locale thanks to the new center turn lane.
“You can come back here,” she said. “We’re ready to serve you.”
Jenni Lubarsky, a dental assistant and receptionist at the Elkhart Dental Center just to the south, said workers there are more apt to go out for lunch now. Traffic got so snarled at times that some employees refrained from leaving over the noon hour, leery about delays caused by congestion.
“We’re happy for that to be all over with,” Lubarsky said.
To the north at Heart City Automotive Group, a Toyota dealership, they heaped praise on the contractor, Rieth-Riley Construction of Goshen. The work temporarily reduced traffic flow into the business, but the firm worked quickly and the end result has been worth it.
Traffic flow now “is just fantastic,” said Jim Russell, the Heart City general manager.
‘BETTER THAN BEFORE’
INDOT isn’t clear about when work will resume in earnest on S.R. 19 south of the St. Joseph River. In an email Wednesday, spokeswoman Mary Foster said only that it would start “once the weather breaks,” presumably in the spring sometime.
Whenever it begins, merchants and motorists in the section can likely expect a repeat of what happened north of the river. The road will be rebuilt and a center turn lane will be added, resulting in construction barrels and the temporary reduction of traffic from two lanes in each direction to one.
Kenny Chang, owner of the Jade Garden restaurant just south of the St. Joseph River on S.R. 19, said the work to the north caused a 10 percent to 15 percent drop in business. When it resumes in front of his business, there will probably be another hit.
That said, he’s confident he can weather the storm. Business may take a temporary hit, he notes, but once the work is complete it will “come back even a little better than before.”
Plans call for an intial focus this coming spring on the S.R. 19 section from the St. Joseph River south to Franklin Street. Then comes the Franklin Street-Lusher Avenue section further south.
The work is to be finished by August 2014.