INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Business owners along Old Dixie Highway near the 56-year-old bridge just north of First Street are concerned that when the bridge closes, they could, too.
Jeff Kuhnert, owner of Bad Boyz Choppers and Kuhnert Roofing, said that he’s not sure if his bike shop would survive without having the drive-through traffic along Old Dixie.
“It will definitely hurt the motorcycle shop,” he said – the roofing business, however, might fare better.
The county will be closing the bridge across the South Relief Canal on Old Dixie this fall, sometime after August. The bridge will be demolished and rebuilt in a span the county says will take three or four months.
Business owners in the area aren’t convinced the bridge will reopen on time. Kuhnert said he thinks it could take five or six months instead.
“We’re not happy about it,” said Jeff Smith, co-owner of Mosby-Smith Engineering. “The economy’s bad enough without taking away traffic.”
According to county traffic counts, approximately 8,700 vehicles cross the bridge daily.
Business owners and residents have asked the county why it can’t build a second, temporary bridge to keep the current, aging bridge open.
“We didn’t have the money for that,” Indian River County Public Works Director Chris Mora said.
Smith said that while his business does not fully rely on drive-by traffic to generate customers, it will make it that much more difficult for new customers to find them during the construction.
Julie Lehman, store manager of Glidden Paint, said that she’s not sure how the bridge closure would affect her business. Many of the customers they serve know how to get there and are already established. It’s new customers, though, who might go elsewhere for paint and services if they don’t know how to get to Glidden.
“This is a thoroughfare,” Lehman said. “They see you, they stop.”
Mora said that the entire road project, which spans 1,500 feet north and south of the bridge is expected to take a total of eight months to complete once it gets started.
“We’re guesstimating right now” that the bridge’s closure will last four months, he said.
“Road Closed” signs will be posted at 4th Street and Old Dixie and at Oslo Road and Old Dixie, though the only closure will be the bridge. Non-local traffic (commuters and those passing through without stopping at the business) will be detoured to US 1 from 4th Street and Oslo Road.
Local traffic will be allowed and signs will be posted notifying motorists of the businesses along Old Dixie that are open during construction.
Along with constructing a new, wider bridge, the $2 million project consists of relocating utilities and widening the north and south segments of Old Dixie.
Mora said the contractor’s plan is to hold off on getting started on the roadwork until construction on US 1 between 4th Street and Oslo is wrapped.
The county is planning to have public meetings in the area to address the business owners’ concerns and to discuss the details of the project. Those meeting dates and locations have not yet been determined.