OBSTACLE COURSE: Road closure hard to navigate for some businesses, homeowners

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GREENFIELD — Less than two weeks into a months-long process of road closures and construction on State Road 9, homeowner William Appleget is already tired of the impact the work is having on his neighborhood.

Appleget, who lives on Forest Avenue, just off State Road 9, said many people try to use his street to access State Road 9 without realizing the neighborhood has no outlet to it.

“I actually called the mayor’s office, and they promptly brought out a ‘No Outlet’ sign. People still go up and down that road, and then get mad at you because you won’t let them drive through your backyard or something.”

Appleget said many people apparently are simply missing the “No Outlet” sign. To make matters worse, many of them are speeding. He’s worried about the children in the area, as well as the potential damage large trucks could do to power lines.

“It’s been nothing but problems,” he said.

Complications from the project are likely to continue for a while. Work began last week on the ambitious State Road 9 project, which will include repairs on Greenfield’s major north-south thoroughfare from Davis Road on the south side of town all the way north to Interstate 70. Work started at the southern end; State Road 9, also known as State Street, will be mostly closed between Davis Road and Main Street until May. From there, the work will slowly move north and continue throughout the summer.

At Davis Road, a sign warns that no through traffic is allowed. On Wednesday afternoon, March 17, however, some vehicles were continuing past the barricade — mostly cars, but some larger trucks as well. Local traffic is permitted to use the road to access homes and businesses, but through traffic is not allowed. The Greenfield Police Department has ticketed numerous people for driving around barriers and into the construction zone.

Retta Livengood, president of the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce, said she is concerned about the impact the road closure will have on area businesses if foot traffic decreases and fewer people are visiting businesses. Outside the Chamber’s office on the courthouse square in downtown Greenfield, she said, she sees less traffic than she normally does in the run-up to the Riley Festival, the only other time State Street is closed.

A list Livengood compiled of Chamber member businesses that are located in the construction zone contains 70 names. While the long-term impact of improving State Road 9 will be a good one, Livengood said, the short-term effect could hurt vulnerable small businesses.

“It’s just very frustrating for businesses, who after a year of COVID are opening back up and having this happen,” she said.

Steve McCleerey is the owner of a business located near the edge of the closure in downtown Greenfield, McCleerey’s Sporting Goods on State Street just south of Main Street. Although foot traffic at the store is down, he said, many of his customers have been great about finding alternate routes, with some parking in the public city lot on nearby South Street and walking from there.

McCleerey said he would have liked to see more communication from the Indiana Department of Transportation, which is in charge of the project, or its contractors about what impact their work could have on nearby businesses.

“I’m a little disappointed,” McCleerey said.

Capt. Chuck McMichael of the Greenfield Police Department said many drivers are still trying to evade the south closure or are ignoring posted signs for the detours that should be taken.

“The cars are using alleys and trying to make their own ways around, which is very dangerous for the public in that area,” McMichael said, especially during the period when children at local schools will be on spring break and may be playing outside.

McMichael said local public safety leaders have been having meetings with INDOT and the contractors carrying out the work every other week. That will soon increase to every week.

Mallory Duncan, INDOT’s spokeswoman for east central Indiana, said drivers in the area should adjust to taking alternate routes, because the closures in this leg of the project will continue until May. She said INDOT has so far received no complaints from businesses and homeowners.

Connie Walden, the owner of All Occasions Hair Salon, 876 S. State St., said the road work has posed problems for her business.

“The issue is that clients are late because they can’t get to us and need to find another way around,” she said.

Walden said she doesn’t expect the closure to lead to fewer bookings at the salon. But, she said, she would have appreciated hearing from the city in advance about how she could best plan to deal with the construction.

Katrina Inman is the owner of A Step Ahead Family Hair Care, 638 S. State St. Ahead of the closure, she anticipated that customers might have trouble finding their way to her salon, but she said it hasn’t impacted her business the way she worried. Customers are managing to navigate side streets to reach the salon.

“So far, we’ve had no complaints,” she said.

Livengood said there are places drivers can park to access the businesses in the current construction zone, but she is concerned about the businesses farther north on State Street that will be impacted by the later stages of work.

“It’s just going to be such a challenge, and I guess I hope that the community remembers our local businesses,” she said.

Tom Ferguson, director of the Hancock County Food Pantry, said numbers at the pantry are down, though it’s difficult to tell whether that is being caused by the road closure. It also might be because many of those in need have received a boost to their bank account from the recent $1,400 stimulus check.

Ferguson said the food pantry, 741 S. State St., can still be accessed by approaching it from the south from Davis Road, but he’s had several people call expressing confusing about how to get there. Although there have been significant efforts to get the word out about how to circumvent the closure, he said, many people in need don’t subscribe to the newspaper or have access to social media.

“We’re open, we have food — people who need food, please spend the extra five minutes to get to us,” he said.