DIXFIELD — As construction on the Webb River Bridge moves toward its fall completion date, local businesses are struggling to overcome 14 months of traffic backups that have kept customers at home.
Construction on the new $2.8 million bridge began in May 2011, and in the months since has regularly caused lengthy traffic backups along Route 2. Although those backups have lessened in recent weeks, businesses owners in downtown Dixfield say frustrated customers now avoid the area altogether.
From his hot dog stand at the intersection of Main and Weld streets, Doug Swan has watched the traffic backups for months. Swan, who has sold hot dogs in the same spot for 16 years, said the recent construction has taken a big bite out of his business.
“It’s slowed our business down,” Swan said. “We don’t do a great big business, but it’s put it into me pretty bad.”
Businesses that cater to lunchtime customers seem to be most affected by the construction.
At the Front Porch Cafe on Hall Hill Road, business has tumbled 75 percent since construction began, owner Sammie Angel said.
“Why would anybody go through that hassle, no knowing how long it’s going to take them?” Angel said, referring to the long traffic backups. “After they’ve sat in the line for half an hour or 45 minutes, they’ve already spent their lunch money in the gas tank.”
At least one business has closed its doors for the duration of construction. Brenda Skidgell, owner of the Blue Moose convenience store, closed up shop last November after business fell by more than 50 percent.
“Most of my business during the day was from a couple of the mills around here for lunches and breaks,” Skidgell said. “They just didn’t have time to wait for 15 minutes to get in and out of the yard. Traffic was just awful.”
Skidgell said she hopes to reopen when the bridge reopens, but is still waiting for construction to wind down. “Right now I don’t know when they’re going to be done,” Skidgell said. “I just don’t have any idea if I’m going to be able to (reopen) or not.”
According to a Maine Department of Transportation construction timeline, all traffic should be shifted to the new bridge by the end of September; the temporary bridge will be removed by Nov. 7. The project is under contract to the firm of A.J. Coleman and Son Inc. of North Conway, N.H.
With construction nearing its scheduled completion date and lengthy traffic backups mostly over, business owners are trying to lure customers back to town. The "Destination Dixfield" campaign, created by the Dixfield Economic Development Council, has begun reaching out to the public through advertisements and special incentives.
Norine Clarke, a member of the EDC who has seen business slow at her own Dixfield shop, Log Cabin Craftworks, said the new bridge and associated sidewalk should help local businesses once the project ends.
“In the long run it should be an improvement, but during the construction it’s very painful,” Clarke said.