ELKHART — “Indiana closed May 17,” reads the orange construction sign off S.R. 19 on Indiana Avenue.
Perhaps 300 feet to the west, there’s another sign, outside Bruno’s Pizza off Indiana Avenue: “We are open.”
The ongoing S.R. 19 upgrade reaches a new milestone next Tuesday, when Indiana Avenue on the west side of the roadway is set to temporarily close to traffic as part of the road overhaul. The busy roadway, known as C.R. 16 to the west of S.R. 19, is to remain closed at the spot until mid-July, and businesses in the area, already affected by the road overhaul, are bracing.
“Tell people we’re still going to be open,” said Bruno Cataldo, the owner of Bruno’s. “I will have an exit in and an exit out.”
Cataldo put up the “We are open” message to let customers know they’ll still be able to get pizzas. Still, he and others are expecting a hit. Indiana Avenue is to be closed on the west side of S.R. 19 to facilitate reconstruction of the approach to the roadway, also known as Nappanee Street, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.
“It’s not fun,” said the manager of a national chain store in the zone, who declined further comment, referring queries to public relations officials at the operation’s national headquarters.
The $14.84 million S.R. 19 project calls for reconstruction of the roadway and the addition of a center turn lane along much of the corridor between Lusher and Beardsley avenues, a busy commercial zone. Work started in May 2012 and the section from the St. Joseph River north to Beardsley Avenue is largely done.
Work started in earnest on the section south of the St. Joseph River to around Franklin Street in early April and traffic there, narrowed from two lanes in each direction to one to permit the work, can get hairy at times. Orange and white traffic barrels line the west side of the roadway and early Friday afternoon, S.R. 19 traffic would regularly back up at the Indiana Avenue traffic light.
“It’s very bad driving up and down 19 right now,” said Steven Peepers of Elkhart, sitting in his car at the 7-Eleven convenience story at the northwest corner of Indiana Avenue and S.R. 19. “I try to avoid it as much as possible because it’s too ridiculous trying to get through that street.”
The precise impact of closing Indiana Avenue remains to be seen, but regardless, the project is hampering business. Some avoid the roadway altogether, merchants say.
“If they take too long, we really worry about it,” said Jay Cho, co-owner of Hair Care Beauty Supply, located at a strip mall on the southwest corner of S.R. 19 and Indiana Avenue. He estimates business has fallen by around 40 percent.
Cataldo, whose pizzeria is located off Indiana Avenue, just west of the strip mall, stands to lose his fairly direct access to S.R. 19. Instead, while Indiana Avenue is closed, customers will have to turn west onto Pennsylvania Avenue to the north off S.R. 19, then take Jones Street south to get to his eatery.
“It’s going to be rough for a couple months,” Cataldo said. He may even have to scale back on workers’ hours.
Still, he thinks longer term, when the project is done, improving the local infrastructure.
“Hey, what can you do? After it’s done, it’s going to be beautiful,” Cataldo said. “You have to think of it that way.”
The formal detour around the closed section of Indiana Avenue, heading east, is Shore Avenue south off Indiana to Franklin Street, also known there as Old U.S. 33, according to INDOT. From there, the detour heads east until Franklin runs back into Indiana Avenue.
DOTTED WITH BUSINESSES
S.R. 19 around Indiana Avenue is dotted with businesses — a Rent-A-Center, McDonald’s, Burger King, Family Dollar, Subway, a Chase Bank branch and more. Cho said INDOT has assured businesses that they’ll remain accessible through the project.
Currently, traffic has been funneled to the east half of the S.R. 19 corridor between the south side of the St. Joseph River and a point just north of Franklin Avenue. That allows workers to overhaul the west half of the roadway there.
The project is to be completed next year.