Going with the flow

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Traffic snarls and businesses in the red not the norm during U.S. 31 construction

U.S. 31 south of 146th St. (Photo by Derek Fisher)

It was going to be Trafficgeddon. It was billed to be the biggest traffic nightmare Hamilton County had ever seen, the ruination of so many morning and afternoon commutes and a knockout blow to nearby businesses.

There were to be detours on top of detours, backhoes where smooth asphalt had been, no way to get “there” from “here,” no matter how close “there” may have been.

In reality, so far? It hasn’t been nearly so apocalyptic.

The Indiana Department of Transportation continues work on the Major Moves project, a 10-year, $2.6 billion undertaking launched in 2005 by Gov. Mitch Daniels to improve and expand Indiana’s highway infrastructure. At present, U.S. 31 in Carmel sits directly in the effort’s crosshairs.

Work began last year some six miles north of the city at the intersection of U.S. 31 and Ind. 38, and while final touches are being added to an interchange there, the focus has shifted to the addition of exit lanes and on-ramps at Keystone Parkway and 146th Street.

It is there the rumored quagmire was to occur, but according to local merchants, business has remained largely unaffected.

“I’ve got to be honest, to date I can’t tell that it’s had any effect,” said Dan Moyer, proprietor of Moyer Fine Jewelers, 14727 N. Meridian St. “I drive it every day and I really don’t find that my drive is any longer than it was prior to that. It’s always been bad around five o’clock, but that’s part of what they’re changing.”

Moyer allowed that the nature of his business might have granted it some immunity from the issues other merchants might face.

“I can’t speak for the other guys, because I’m a destination location,” he said. “The restaurants are more of a spontaneous thing. If a guy’s getting engaged, he’s going to find a way to get across 146th Street.”

What’s the worst part, if any, Moyer has seen thus far?

“The media saying there’s a lot of construction going on,” Moyer stated bluntly. “The Indianapolis media kept saying prepare for big problems, and honestly I haven’t seen them.”

Westward across the stacks of rebar, piles of gravel and heavy machinery from Moyer’s edifice sits Clay Terrace. Restaurateurs there seem to have noticed more of a downtick in business than does Moyer.

“I think initially, it slowed some traffic down,” Kona Grill general manager Chris Thomas said of the construction. “Mostly from the south entrance. But it’ll be great once it’s completed.”

“We have seen a change in business,” offered Mark Schaefer, Thomas’ counterpart at Kincaid’s Restaurant, 14159 Clay Terrace Blvd. “It has been hectic over the summer time, mainly due to the different detours, lack of visibility of the restaurant and different roadblocks. It has not affected our occasions dining – a birthday, an anniversary. Because when people really want to go somewhere, they are going to find a way to get there.”

Smith concurs with that assessment.

“As long as you’re delivering on the experience, people are going to come,” he said.

What remains to be seen is how the fast-approaching holiday shopping season will be affected by the construction. According to Nathan Riggs, INDOT spokesman, the area between 151st Street and where Range Line Road meets U.S. 31 will largely escape any holiday madness.

“Current construction, from just north of 146th Street to just south of Range Line Road, is expected to wrap up in November – before the shopping season,” Riggs said. “(2013) construction will concentrate on the area north of 146th Street to just south of 169th Street.”

Generally more so than restaurants, shops in the area depend on holiday sales to pad their bottom line. Two Clay Terrace-based boutiques look to be just fine, should the present flow of business continue; representatives from both Z Gallerie and locally-owned AH Collection intimated that things had remained steady and that pattern looks to continue.

“I don’t have anything specific that says it’s really hurt business,” said AH Collection co-owner Anne White. “It’s been pretty steady throughout the time. We market our store so much, and if things decline we would do some type of sale – but as a local business, we do that anyway. We’re content to ride it out.”

“I would say it’s affected us slightly, but weekends still tend to be on the busy side,” said Jeremy King, associate manager of Z Gallerie. “I think it’s been good because they handled the 146th Street area a little quicker than we expected. It hasn’t hindered things so much, and we’re getting into our busy holiday season.”

Moyer seemed to summarize the entire mood of the project well, saying, “I think they’ve done a great job, as a matter of fact, keeping things flowing. I give it high marks so far.”

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