Mary Murphy, owner of Gold & Guns in Weber City, told the Scott County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday that her business has declined noticeably over the past year or so.
Though she attributes some of that decline to the lingering effects of the last recession, she believes the construction — and its estimated completion time of summer 2019 — is the main problem.
“I do believe that summer of 2019 is quite ridiculous,” Murphy told the board. “There are a couple businesses that have already closed on that stretch of (Route) 23, and I am struggling. … Also, if I’m in trouble, there are other businesses that are in trouble.”
The construction project will replace the current Route 23 bridges over the North Fork of the Holston River, according to VDOT’s website. The bridges, one built in the 1940s and the other in the 1960s, “have reached their lifespan and are ready for replacement,” the website states.
Traffic has been reduced to one lane in each direction, and access to and from businesses on the side of the highway — including Murphy’s — has been made more difficult.
Murphy, who also lives in Weber City, said her business and the other small businesses in that area have a big impact on the county’s economy, and she asked board members to help her find a solution to the problem.
“My little business may not seem like much, but I believe that Scott County would feel my loss,” Murphy said. “I do 95 percent of my shopping in Scott County for my home and my farm. If I have to go to Kingsport to get a job, that will change, just because it will be easier and I will not fight the traffic on the bridge if I don’t have to.”
Allan Sumpter, a representative from VDOT’s Bristol district, was present at Wednesday’s BOS meeting and responded to Murphy’s concerns. Though he said he couldn’t do anything to speed up the construction himself, he promised to pass her concerns along to the district construction engineer, who helps administer the project.
“I do know from the engineering perspective of it, it is a very complicated project,” Sumpter said, “and when we have projects that are dealing with that much traffic, they’re a challenge to maintain the traffic. … It’s a very inconvenient spot for a bridge project, but it’s a necessity that it be done.”
The board’s response
Board members Jack Compton, Danny Mann and Chairman David Redwine agreed that the bridge construction has been frustrating, but said they had limited power to change the situation.
In the meantime, board members promised to help Murphy and the other small business owners explore other options to help them get through the construction process.
“We don’t expect you’re going to get wealthy between now and summer of ’19,” Redwine told Murphy, “but we’d like you to stay, and we’ll help you any way we can.”