Businesses struggling during Ford Boulevard bridge reconstruction
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
The store sits several hundred feet south of the bridge at 215 S. Ford Blvd., and deliveries that used to take five minutes to the dense residential zones just north of the bridge now take 20 minutes.
To keep orders from backing up while drivers traverse the extended route, Moga has had to take on the new role.
Still, there is a delay no matter what, and the longer trip around the closed bridge also means a significant drop in pick-up customers. The 12,000 vehicles that used to cross the bridge daily no longer do so during the five-month project.
“It feels like a ghost town on this side of the street,” Moga said, adding that she was expecting to see sales continue to climb in 2013 as the economy improves. “This would have been a great year, but half of our delivery area is on the other side of the bridge, and I’ve got customers that won't make the drive over. What used to take five minutes now takes 20 minutes. It’s insane.”
Moga said she isn’t sure exactly how much of a drop in business the store has suffered, but added, “If paying bills is any indication, it’s not going well.”
Moga and other businesses were unnerved to learn from a construction worker that the $2.6 million rebuild of the 70-year-old bridge would not be completed in August as originally scheduled, though the Washtenaw Country Road Commission says the construction is on schedule and will be done by the end of August.
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
“The schedule I have from the contractor says the end of August,” said Kelly Jones, a bridge engineer and project manager with the Road Commission. “As of right now, there hasn’t been anything that has caused it to be delayed into September.”
Jones said crews are currently pouring concrete for the substructures.
The 180-foot-long bridge spans East Michigan Avenue and Southern Norfolk train lines, and is being rebuilt on the portion that crosses railroad tracks.
That high-speed railroad line running next to East Michigan Avenue is one of the reasons there are so few places to cross from the north end of the township into the south end.
The official detour is seven miles and directs motorists headed southbound on North Ford Boulevard across the bridge to South Ford Boulevard to instead go eastbound on Holmes Road. The detour then runs east along East Michigan Avenue.
It next cuts back west along the U.S. 12 connector. Motorists are then directed to exit at the Ecorse Road exit, which runs into South Ford Boulevard.
In Moga’s case, she said her drivers mainly taking Ford Boulevard south to Ecorse Road west. They then head east on Michigan Avenue to access the neighborhoods north of the bridge.
The Night Star Party Store is one of Hungry Howie's neighbors. Its manager, Sal Zora, said his sales are down around 33 percent from last year. He is especially vulnerable because no one is going to drive an extra 14 miles to get to the same pack of cigarettes and beer that can be found much closer on the other side of the bridge.
"I haven't seen (customers from the other side of the bridge)," he said. "They try to get over but can't. I was looking forward to a good summer, but now ...."
He said he tried lowering his prices, but that has not particularly helped, and he was forced to cut back on his hours for his employees.
The Ypsilanti Township Fire Department’s main station also sits just south of the bridge, and the department is adding two to three minutes to its response time during the closure.
But the Superior Township Fire Department, which borders the township to the north, is providing automatic assistance in the event of a structure fire. Huron Valley Ambulance also is positioning one of its units north of the bridge during construction to keep down response times to medical emergencies
Moga said her store is doing the best it can to adjust, especially in a saturated pizza market. Under consideration is a “bridge out” special for $5 large pizzas and the store recently put 5,000 fliers on doors south of the bridge.
While the closure is stressful, Moga said she and her husband, who also owns the store, refuse to cut back on any employees. High turnover rates are the norm at pizza shops, but Moga said many of the employees there have been with the company for years and rely on the job for a second source of income.
“It just means (Moga and her husband) take home less money,” she said.
Tom Perkins is a freelance reporter. Contact the AnnArbor.com news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org.