At long last, motorists drive on overpass
By the time the 10th customer called to cancel an appointment, Blake Brueggeman knew he had a big problem on his hands.
Construction to create an interchange and overpass at 29 Road and the Interstate 70 Business Loop had begun more than a year earlier, but drivers still were patronizing Integrity Auto Repair, 2892 I-70B. Then, about a year ago, men in hard hats began blocking roads with concrete barriers and construction cones. For Brueggeman and his business, it was as if someone had shut off the spigot.
He and his employees began dialing customers to find out why they had skipped their scheduled maintenance and repairs. They received virtually identical responses in regards to the cone zone: “I just don’t want to deal with it.”
So, when Mesa County and Grand Junction officials marked the opening Saturday afternoon of the 779-foot-long bridge that spans nine Union Pacific Railroad tracks with a line of classic cars and an inflatable children’s play area, Brueggeman was celebrating right alongside them, flying banners and hoisting balloons.
“We’re absolutely thrilled it’s going to be done,” he said.
Businesses, residents and motorists who have endured roughly three years’ worth of torn-up roads and detours can now relax. Yet the completion of the $34 million project holds greater significance than quelling construction headaches.
Observers say it could spur a revitalization of the North Avenue corridor, relieve congestion on streets such as 30 Road and Ninth Street that have borne the brunt of Fruitvale and Pear Park commuters and reduce emergency response times by as much as two minutes.
And 29 Road, which previously didn’t exist between I-70B and D 1/2 Road, now serves as a major north-south thoroughfare, expected to carry 16,000 vehicles a day — the same number that travel the Redlands Parkway bridge over the Colorado River.
“We have so many difficulties getting from north to south in this community,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. “Having that road in such a fashion to expedite traffic, it will be a traffic- pattern changer.”
The five-lane overpass and interchange mark the latest phase — and one of the most important — of an effort to expand 29 Road. The county and city have worked since 2002 to lengthen and add turn lanes and sidewalks to 29 Road, which now provides a continuous link between U.S. Highway 50 and Patterson Road.
The final phase of the project consists of building an interchange at Interstate 70, ultimately joining with 24 Road and Riverside Parkway to complete a loop around Grand Junction. But with the city, county and the Colorado Department of Transportation all short on funding, it likely will be several years before the interchange can be finished.
For now, Brueggeman and others are thrilled to have the 29 Road-I-70B section done.
Brueggeman estimates Integrity Auto Repair lost nearly 20 percent of its business within the past year. Many longtime customers weaved their way through the construction, but others, particularly older ones, gave up.
“They just don’t want to deal with driving into a cone zone,” he said.
To try to maintain his client base, Brueggeman launched email campaigns, created maps and cut a hole in a fence on the north side of his property to create a secondary, more easily accessible entrance. For some who needed their vehicles serviced but refused to bring them in, he and his employees picked up their vehicles, drove them back to the shop, worked on them there and returned them to their owners.
“We did what we had to do,” Brueggeman said. “You just have to get real creative to get through it all.”
Tom Skubic, owner of E&E Door and Window, 2898 I-70B, said he, too, saw a drop in sales but has no complaints, chalking it up to the price of doing business.
He said the city, county and Englewood-based general contractor Lawrence Construction have been accommodating and easy to work with.
“It’s going to be a wonderful asset to the city of Grand Junction,” he said.
Graff Dairy co-owner Dave Nichols, who survived construction on the north end of 29 Road seven years ago, said he’s been waiting for the road to grow into an important transportation route for nearly 30 years.
“I think it’s a big plus economically for businesses,” he said.