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X-Factor: Bridge Reconstruction's Effect on Businesses Downtown

Concern is the word that most often arises when speaking to the community about the effect of 18 months of repair work at the foot of Middletown's downtown business district.

The 18-month-long Arrigoni Bridge construction project is the X-factor for Middletown business owners. No one can predict the effect on commerce downtown any more than they can predict the loyalty or patience of commuters coming into the city.

One thing is certain, however, says Tina Lun, owner of Tina’s Fine Lingerie on Main Street. "Any traffic will affect business. Customers like convenience. They don't like to get stuck.”

But Lun is used to this particular challenge. “Traffic always is a problem. Parking is a big problem here on Main Street, forget the bridge,” she says. The majority of her customers are female, which means … sorry, ladies … impatience.

“We're women. Women like to stop and go. Not to walk through the whole parking lot and get stuck leaving. I have a lot of customers in Portland, Haddam, Colchester,” Lun says, whom she hopes will persevere.

“We are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., so the hours in the morning are not going to be a problem. It's the hours returning home that's going to be a problem,” Lun muses.

She remembers some roadwork in the last couple years which affected business. “When they redid the roads on Main Street, it was shut down for a week — that was a nightmare. It was fast, but there were less customers. Nobody wanted to come because the road was closed.”

But Lun prefers the silver lining. “My customers are so loyal. If they need something, they'll find a way to be here. [Construction] hopefully won't stop them.”

Bobbye Knoll is community organizer at the North End Action Team, whose offices are right on lower Main Street, next to the MAC 650 Gallery.

“There are a couple of facts at play,” she explains. Most people are worried about the affect on businesses, but she points out another angle.

“The Arrigoni Bridge lets off into a residential area on both sides,” Knoll says, referring to the Rapallo Avenue and Grand Street areas. “We’re concerned about the impact on residents, the quality of living for residents.”

She says NEAT members have been very vocal at all public meetings on the bridge construction.

“We want to make sure people remember this is a residential area not just businesses. It’s an issue [for residents] being able to get in and out of the neighborhood effectively.”

Jennifer Alexander, a North End resident, executive director of KidCity Museum and the city’s Redevelopment Agency chairwoman, puts her faith in engaged and proactive business owners in the city.

“We have a well-organized business community. I think we’ll know quickly what the impact will be and I’m hoping the state will be responsive.”

Speaking for KidCity, Alexander says, “I’m hoping we don’t see a big impact, because most of our customers are not traveling during rush hour.”

Like Knoll, Alexander thinks North End residents, who have worked so hard to make this once depressed area of the city livable, vital and enjoyable, will suffer the brunt of drivers looking for a speedy detour around the gridlock.

“I’m concerned people coming over the bridge will take a shortcut through the North End. We’ve worked hard in the last decade to improve what it’s like to live in the North End,” Alexander says.

“I think the success of this neighborhood is so important to the town.

Alexander, who has had a presence at many meetings the city has held in regards to this project, points out there are other traffic considerations than simply commuters.

“What about the products that have to travel to and from the bridge construction,” she asks, worried truck drivers might well detour through North End neighborhoods.

 “Just the truck traffic” alone is disconcerting, Alexander, herself a North End resident, says. “We did get one concession. Supposedly [trucking supplies and asphalt] is not going to be done during business hours. It will be done in the evening.”

However, she points out, “they actually are crushing asphalt [taken from the bridge] and plan to use Spring Street to Rome Avenue to Remington Rand [where it will be crushed].

“The local police have the right to make Grand Street one way for 18 months or Pearl Street one way, but they have adopted a wait and see approach,” Alexander says.

It’s an approach that will be shared — and carefully watched — by residents, business owners and commuters alike.”

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