Jackson Boulevard construction ends this week

Portions of East Jackson Boulevard and Elkhart Avenue have been under construction since March 2018, creating a new streetscape with trees, on-street parking and fewer lanes. Construction officially ends Thursday with a grand reopening.

ELKHART — The year-long road construction on East Jackson Boulevard is coming to an end on Thursday, none too early for those who work, live and do business in the area. 

Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese will be the first to drive down the street to officially reopen it at 10:30 a.m.

The River District Streetscape Project broke ground in March 2018, first closing portions of East Jackson Boulevard. Parts of Elkhart Avenue were closed from early August through early November, and work then resumed in March this year along East Jackson Boulevard from Elkhart Avenue to Johnson Street.

Those closures have been felt by residents and businesses alike.

"It was real frustrating last year when the road the was completely closed down," said Steve Peterson, owner of Elkhart Bicycle Shop, 401 E. Jackson Blvd.

Since the portion of the street where the bike shop is located was reopened, business has improved, Peterson said. But it's still significantly down.

In the first seven months of 2018, the store sold about 280 bikes. In the same period of time this year, that number is down by roughly 100, according to Peterson.

"There are still a lot of people that aren't happy with the new Jackson Boulevard and don't want to come downtown," he said.

He said weather and trends in the bicycle market may have affected sales, as other bike shops in the area have also seen slower sales. But not to the extent of Peterson's store.

"It's a little frustrating, but it's the reality of growth. Sometimes there has to come pain with growth," he said.

He hopes sales will come back up when the construction and detours are over, especially when the shop moves to a new building in the River District in the next 12 to 18 months.

"I think in the long run, it's going to be beautiful," he said of the redeveloped district. "I think it's going to be good for the city to have more retail, more residential stuff downtown."

He also likes the new traffic pattern created by limiting the boulevard to one lane in each direction.

"It used to be a drag strip. When the light at Elkhart Avenue would turn green, people would see how fast they could race up to the red light at Main Street. It's much quieter and calmer now, which is nice," he said.

Another business owner along the boulevard is Bruce Watkins of Watkins Family Dentistry, 205 E. Jackson Blvd. There, the construction hasn't had too much of an impact, he said.

"It's been a little bit noisy. As far as traffic flow and things like that, we haven't really had any problems," he said.

Patients know where the office is located, and there has been good access through Nibco Parkway, according to Watkins.

"Some of our consistent patients, they're going to find their way here one way or the other," he said. "We did have some delayed appointments and things, a few minutes here and there, because they had to find a different way."

He praised the city for how the construction has been scheduled and divided into phases. With the redeveloped River District, which is still under construction, he hopes foot traffic and business will improve.

"I'm kind of excited to see the reopening and all the good stuff that's going to happen down this street, with the aqua center and different buildings that they plan on putting up," he said.

The road work has resulted in a completely reconstructed streetscape from sidewalk to sidewalk on East Jackson Boulevard and Elkhart Avenue, said Mayor's Office communications director Courtney Bearsch.

The boulevard's lanes are now divided by trees and grass, there is on-street parking, bicycle racks, benches and new street lighting and signals. New buried utilities have also been installed, according to Bearsch.

"The streetscape project is the first part of the city's effort to redevelop the area known as the River District. This project was designed to complement new exciting investments and private development already taking place in the area," she said in an email.

The grand reopening takes place at 10 a.m. on Thursday on East Jackson Boulevard between Clark and Pacific Streets. Local politicians and officials involved in the project will speak before Neese reopens the street.

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter @ReadRasmus

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