Oct. 07–EXETER, R.I. — Accustomed to being out of sight and out of mind, businesses on Nooseneck Hill Road, a section of Route 3 that parallels Route 95, rely on local traffic or other ways of creating visibility.
Next weekend, however, interstate traffic will be diverted directly to them, as Route 95 north is closed for 56 hours between exits 4 and 6 while the R.I. Department of Transportation replaces the second of a pair of bridges. Rerouting traffic will save the state $1 million and deliver a windfall to merchants.
During the work, all northbound vehicles must get off at exit 4. Trucks will be required to get back on at exit 5, which entails a left turn onto Route 102, DOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said. Cars, however, can avoid any delay from a line of trucks turning left, by staying on Route 3 until the exit 6 interchange. Trucks can’t take that route, St. Martin said, because they are too heavy for the bridge crossing Big River.
One business that could profit from the detour is Twisted Throttle, a nationwide distributor of motorcycle accessories. People familiar with the company’s online presence might be surprised there’s a physical store and an Exeter headquarters. Retail manager Brendan Yag, 30, said the detour “could be good for our floor traffic,” which is usually scant, even though motorcycles are posed around the shop and on stage like models dressed in merchandise. The online store gets traffic day and night, with shipping done from Exeter and auxiliary distribution points in California and Canada. For the detour weekend, Yag’s marketing mind envisioned parking a row of fully-accessorized motorcycles out front as lures.
At a junkyard next door, Greg Jarvis, owner of Richmond Diesel & Tire, said his business, which is only open half the day Saturday, wouldn’t be affected. Prompted by his bookkeeper, Diane Cullen, he began to see the benefits of visibility. Truck drivers might see his sign, he said. “They would know that this place exists” and keep him in mind if they’re passing through and need repair.
Ocean State Harley-Davidson also has a shop on the detour. “So all the traffic on 95 is going to go by our shop?” said Keith Temenski, 53, manager of the Exeter location. “That would be wonderful.”
Leaf peepers from Connecticut, New York or Pennsylvania, as they’re driving a little slower on Route 3 than they would on 95, might spot the Middle of Nowhere Diner and pull in for a selfie or something to eat. Next door is the Next to Nowhere Creamery, which usually closes after the first weekend in October, said its owner, Demetri Melanis, 39. He had stopped restocking ice cream flavors as they ran out, he said, but he might rethink that, given the promising weather and traffic forecasts.
The Route 95 work is to finish replacing a set of deteriorating bridges over Tefft Hill Trail, a dirt road that provides a safe way for hikers, mountain bikers and, in emergencies, fire trucks to cross the interstate. Tefft trail leads to a former state campground and eventually Browning Mill Pond, all part of the Arcadia Management Area.
Instead of new bridges to take the interstate over the trail, the DOT is installing a tunnel, of sorts, for the trail, then filling in over the tunnel and building a roadbed over that. Precast concrete sections have already been moved into place to form an arched passage, like a culvert only larger, under the highway. The arched structure is technically a bridge, St. Martin said, but much smaller and less expensive to maintain.
The southbound side is finished. It took most of the summer to accomplish that without closing the highway. Traffic was shifted into the right and breakdown lanes while the left half of the bridge was demolished, then shifted to the left and high-speed breakdown lanes for the other half.
That slower method can’t be done on the northbound side, St. Martin said, because the lane shift would require closing an area just south of Tefft Hill Trail, that sometimes serves as a weigh station. It has no facilities, but St. Martin said it’s a popular rest area for truckers. Closing it would have meant four months of denying truckers a safe place to pull over and sleep.
Trucker goodwill might be short-lived. Gantries are planned near the Tefft Hill Trail project that will electronically exact a toll from trucking companies to pay for bridge repairs. The Tefft Hill Trail bridge project is designated as one of the first locations for tolls.
Another bonus of the 56-hour detour: If the work isn’t finished on time — 5 a.m. Oct. 16, St. Martin said, the contractor has to pay a penalty. The rate is $5,000 per half-hour, per lane.
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