Ian Urquhart crosses the Kenai River bridge in Soldotna Wednesday afternoon. Businesses and pedestrians are waiting to see how construction of a new structure will affect them. "I ride my bike or walk to work in the summer," Urquhart said. "That bridge is really important to me."
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Juan Rodriguez has seen cars backed up in the summertime by the bridge in Soldotna for a number of years now. This can make it difficult for the traffic to reach his business, the Acapulco Mexican Restaurant, on the north side of the bridge.
But the bridge construction project on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna has Rodriguez and other businesses around the bridge holding their breath waiting to see how it will impact their operations this summer.
"I don't know if (the project is) going to affect us over the summertime," Rodriguez said, thinking about when the city is flooded with tourists. "I think it's going to be a little bit worse."
He said since he took over the restaurant three years ago, he has noticed there is a hefty dose of traffic traveling through Soldotna from Homer. The bad traffic makes it difficult to access his restaurant, he said.
With construction and a temporary bridge, he said it may be even worse.
Ann Hart, owner of the Tides Inn, on the south side of the bridge, also is uncertain about how her business may be affected.
"It's totally unknown," Hart said. "Let's get it over with."
The bridge is scheduled to be completed in October 2006.
She hopes the flagging crew will work to help move traffic in and out of her parking lot.
"That's our only hope," she said.
However, pedestrian traffic also concerns Hart.
In the original construction plans, there were no provisions allowing pedestrians to cross the bridge. In the summer, a lot of people walk across the bridge to reach her business.
Hart also is concerned it could be a safety issue, she said.
Construction projects al-ways have the potential to negatively affect businesses, said Chuck Swenor, project engineer for the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
When the bridge project was being planned, they tried to develop a plan to minimize the impact on area businesses, he said.
For example, Swenor said if there is a special sale, they will work with a business to control the flow of traffic in and out of their lot. The DOT also will try to keep driveways open, he said.
"We put a lot of thought into that stuff," he said.
Swenor said he has been working with the DOT and Wilder Construction Co. on developing a plan to allow pedestrians to cross the bridge.
In the end, he said the new bridge will probably increase business for the surrounding establishments.
"It's a plus in the long run," he said.
Hart and Rodriguez agree.
Hart said a new bridge is long overdue and needs to be done.
"I have worked with everybody to the best of my ability to get things done," she said.
"If it comes to the point where (the construction is) going to affect us," Rodriguez said, "we'll just close for a little bit and go on vacation."
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