Locust bridge: Swarming traffic eats into businesses' crops

When repairs started on the Locust Avenue bridge back in March, it was no surprise that traffic surged on alternate routes such as McIntire Road and High Street. Two months into the five-month project, some local businesses say the increased traffic is more than a nuisance– it's cutting into their profits.

"It's a negative," says Kitty Wray, manager of Richmond Camera, which sits at the intersection of High Street and Meade Avenue– arguably the focal point of downtown traffic woes.

Traffic hurts the camera store's business two times a day, says Wray: at lunch hour and at evening rush hour, when traffic delays can keep drivers sitting in one spot for as much as 10 minutes. "If that's the only time people can come," she explains, "they won't come."

From her vantage point ("an aquarium," she calls it), she can watch human nature in action, as drivers decide who– and how many– to yield to. Tempers often flare, she says– especially in the evening hours, and honking horns are one of the more civilized ways drivers express their displeasure.

"The afternoon people are a lot nicer," Wray laughs.

Buster Taylor, owner of Riverside Lunch, says he hasn't seen a drop in business, but he knows the traffic is an inconvenience for his customers, many of whom liked to take the back exit up Hazel Street to Locust to avoid High Street traffic. But "People are dealing with it," he says.

Across the street from Riverside, High Street Steak and Grill has seen its business slow, but owner Tonya Whyte says she doesn't know if the bridge repairs are responsible. Since the slowdown has taken place over the last several weeks, Whyte wonders if the Dogwood Festival had more to do with it than bridge repairs.

But not every business is feeling the pinch. Millie Nader at Emily's Bakery on Long Street says the added traffic heading up 250 "hasn't affected business at all."

And a spokesperson at Kaminer and Thomson Inc., a printing company on Belleview Avenue, a common cut-through from Locust Avenue to River Road by CVS, says their business hasn't been affected in any way either.

City engineer Tony Edwards says the project is on track, and that the city has had only "minor" complaints from citizens concerned with traffic patterns. The Locust bridge repairs should be done in July, as planned, Edwards says. But that doesn't signal relief for drivers or businesses sick of the traffic rerouting and subsequent delays and inconveniences.

"The next one is going to be a problem," Riverside's Taylor says of the Park Street bridge repairs, slated to begin when the Locust bridge project ends. "That's the main drag," he explains.

That's the shutdown that could turn into a real drag for drivers and businesses alike.