GREENFIELD — For more than six weeks, flashing signs on the side of Interstate 70 have warned eastbound motorists approaching Greenfield: If you get off here, there’s no getting back on.
The entrance ramp from State Road 9 onto eastbound I-70 was cordoned off in early August after Indiana Department of Transportation officials declared the area unsafe because of construction, and local leaders say the closure has had some unexpected consequences.
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Business owners along the State Road 9 corridor report they have suffered from the closure, and members of local law enforcement are concerned it’s leading to car wrecks in other areas of the county where rerouted traffic has caused issues, officials said.
Restaurants, retailers and hotel owners rely on travelers choosing Greenfield for a quick pit stop or an overnight stay, but fewer motorists seem to be pulling off because they want to avoid time-consuming detours to get back on the interstate, business owners said.
Out-of-town drivers don’t seem eager to brave the detours, and some have told local business owners they’re avoiding Greenfield altogether.
Qdoba, located in one of the first strip malls south of the interstate, has seen about 10 percent fewer customers in the two months since the exit ramp closed, said Mark Rees, CEO of CMR Restaurants, which owns Qdoba restaurants in Greenfield and Anderson.
The highway signs advertising Qdoba usually brought lots of hungry motorists to the store at the intersection of State Street and New Road. Qdoba’s parking lot usually was marked by plenty of cars with out-of-state license plates, but those have been sparse lately, Rees said.
“It’s taken away that off-the-highway business we had in the past,” he said. “We still get some westbound travelers but not very many eastbound travelers at all.”
Over-the-road truckers who normally patronize the Super 8 motel in Greenfield have kept on driving since the exit closed, not wanting the hassle of a detour, said owner John Dodrill.
He said the hotel saw a significant loss of hotel stays in September; he declined to specify how many fewer rooms were sold.
Dodrill looks forward to October’s end, when the barricades come down and, hopefully, business starts to pick up, he said.
Keith Stark, a manager with ConsortiumCRE, which works with developers to place businesses in shopping centers, said he believes highway officials don’t realize the impact the construction has had on Greenfield businesses.
“It’s very quiet in Greenfield right now,” he said.
Police said they believe the closure has also led to increased traffic on local back roads, and they wonder if the additional cars are to blame for a series of crashes they’ve seen at one county intersection in recent weeks.
Department officials said they believe more drivers are using County Road 200N as a thoroughfare east because of the closure on the interstate. They’re worried folks unfamiliar with the area — specifically where the roadway crosses County Road 400E — are pulling out in front of other drivers and causing wrecks.
In the weeks since the exit was closed, the county sheriff’s department has investigated three crashes at the intersection that landed drivers in the hospital with concerning injuries, said Maj. Brad Burkhart.
The intersection is a two-way stop; there are stop signs posted on County Road 200N at the intersection, along with warnings that tell drivers that traffic on County Road 400E will not come to a halt, said Burkhart, who lives near the intersection and has witnessed a few of the wrecks first hand.
Local drivers know the traffic flow, and crashes there are usually few and far between. But drivers who aren’t familiar with the area could be tripped up, and that’s when crashes occur, he said.
Sheriff’s deputies have asked the county highway department to conduct a study to determine if the recent issues there are because of the interstate closure or are evidence of a greater problem there. That study is set to begin in the coming weeks, official said.