Months-long construction on tiny NJ bridge is taking big toll on small businesses
ROCKY HILL — Work to replace the Route 518 bridge in Somerset County shut down the span in early July, and initial estimates suggested it would be reopened to traffic in August.
But a half-year later, the area's main route over the Delaware and Raritan Canal remains inaccessible, and local business owners don't know how much more of a financial hit they can take.
The bridge project was halted days after its July closure when Gov. Chris Christie ordered that non-essential projects be shut down because the Transportation Trust Fund ran out of money.
The seemingly-never-ending work, they say, is either detouring motorists elsewhere or forcing regular commuters to simply avoid the area and the looming traffic tie-ups.
Vitaliy Shakirov, whose coffee shop in Rocky Hill initially saw a 60 percent decline in sales when the bridge work began, said he's only been able to save his business by essentially working alone during all open hours.
"I had to lay off everybody and now I have very limited help," he told New Jersey 101.5.
In the months since summer, Shakirov has managed to regain some losses but is still bringing in at least 20 percent less business than usual.
Business is down as much as 40 percent at Vera Pizza in Montgomery, according to owner Maurizio Iovine. Regular customers who want delivery decide against using Vera because they think it could take hours.
"When you got no money to pay the rent, when it's slow, it's terrible to run a small business in New Jersey," he said.
Work eventually resumed in November, and the state Department of Transportation says work should be completed in February, weather-permitting.
Either way, the owner of a Rocky Hill pottery studio isn't waiting it out. John Shedd said he's always wanted to move his business, and the bridge project delays have sent him over the edge.
"I'm not sticking around," he said. "I've never seen such abject stupidity in my life. It has just fried me."
Shedd's own commute to work has increased by about 35 minutes, he said.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.