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Eighth Street businesses feel pinch of bridge closing

BY Genevieve Postlethwait and David Zoellernews@paducahsun.com

For businesses on either side of the U.S. 45 Brookport bridge, its closing has caused far more than inconvenience; it's hitting  their bottom line.

The Subway and Smoke Shop that face one another across North Eighth Street in Paducah are both feeling the pinch.

"As you can see, we're pretty dead right now," Subway General Manager Paral Patel said around noon Friday, typically one of his busiest times of the week. Patel estimates the store is losing about $400 a day in sales now that the bridge is closed, keeping Brookport customers away.

The Brookport bridge has been closed to traffic since July 8 to allow for construction of an underpass to connect two sections of the Greenway Trail in Paducah. The bridge is scheduled to remain closed through July 28.

"As a driver, that bridge is horrible, but it keeps the customers coming! Two more weeks," he said. He and his employees have a running countdown until the bridge reopens.

Across the street at the Smoke Shop, Paducah resident and Linwood Motors Metropolis salesman Henry Glore was the only one of his usual group of friends patronizing the shop Friday afternoon. Before the Brookport bridge closed, Glore said he and many of his pals liked to gather round their regular table at the Smoke Shop to enjoy each other's company and fellowship over snacks and Keno. Now, their chairs sit empty most days.

According to Kentucky Transportation Cabinet spokesman Keith Todd, an average of 5,000 vehicles drive over the Brookport bridge daily. With the extended repair work on Interstate 24 over the past several months, that number has likely doubled at times, he said.

The Brookport bridge closure comes as repair work on the I-24 Ohio River bridge between Paducah and Metropolis is winding down. All work zone traffic control equipment on the I-24 bridge was scheduled to be removed and all lanes open to normal traffic on Friday.

On the Illinois side of the Brookport bridge, the closing's impact is more complex. Barney's Market owner Susan Russell has actually seen a three-fold increase in tobacco sales, thanks to Illinois smokers who can no longer make quick trips across the bridge for cheaper cigarettes.

"But it's a double-edged sword," Russell said. "There are people in town who work over on North Eighth who are hurting because of the bridge. When you're on a limited budget, the extra 40 miles a day it takes to get to work takes a big chunk out of your paycheck."

Opposite Russell's store, Angie Farris's bar called The Bridge Inn is losing sales. Her regulars who usually stop by for after-work drinks on their way home from Paducah have all but disappeared.

"As long as I can struggle through it, I'm going to," Farris said. "I made it through the tornado. If I can make it through the next three weeks, I've got it whipped. I'm a survivor."

On Aug. 9, The Bridge Inn will celebrate its three-year anniversary. Farris hopes the Brookport bridge will be back in business by then, giving her business even more reason to celebrate.

Once the underpass is complete on U.S. 45, the transportation cabinet might need a few extra days to replace a damaged beam on the bridge. Todd said the cabinet has been working diligently while the structure is closed to replace the damaged beam, but if a replacement can't be fabricated in time for the July 28 completion date, the repair would likely require only a one- or two-day bridge closure. The rest of the cabinet's project would be completed with one-lane closures, keeping the bridge open to traffic, he said.

Transportation officials are aware of the potential impact bridge closures have on nearby residents and businesses, Todd said. They also realize that bridges must be maintained because they are so vital to the community.

"All of this points to the importance of bridges to so many lives in our area," Todd said. "We are really dependent on the bridges â ¦ that's one of the reasons our engineers have been so focused on taking really good care of them."

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