It’s been three weeks since barges severely damaged the San Jacinto River Bridge.
The Texas Department of Transportation said permanent repairs to the bridge would not be complete until the first quarter of next year.
To avoid a complete shutdown of the thoroughfare, the eastbound bridge handles two-way traffic. The westbound bridge remains closed, as a contract will soon be awarded to make permanent repairs.
The strike has increased traffic in Highlands and slowed commute times in and out of the Highlands area. The timeline for repairs has some businesses in Highlands worried, suffering because of the gridlock.
“It’s taking so much longer for people to get where they have to go that they don’t have time to stop and frequent the businesses here in town, so it’s hurting their revenues,” said Jessica Woods, executive director of the Highlands-Lynchburg Chambers of Commerce. “On the one hand, you would think more traffic coming through town would be good for business, but it’s been the opposite.”
The popular lunch destination, Teapot Depot, just off Main Street, is one such business that has seen a decrease in customers since the barge strike.
“People cannot get to us due to traffic, and even though the bridge is opened back up, there’s still a delay of about 20 minutes going both ways,” Teapot Depot Manager Charlotte Duzant said. “So we have a lot of people not coming to see us right now, so I’ve offered to make deliveries just to keep revenue up.”
Regular customers have apologized for not being able to visit Teapot Depot and cite the fact they only have an hour for lunch, which is not enough time with constant traffic in Highlands.
Increased traffic has also led to a higher number of vehicle accidents in the area, according to David Kostka, who runs a towing business and auto repair shop in Highlands.
“It’s horrendous all around town,” Kostka said. “Everybody is trying to get where they’re going on time and there have been crazy accidents at Garth Road and Barbers Hill Road. It’s just a bad situation. All the diverted traffic on the back streets is just crazy.”
“And not having other options to get around puts everyone in a bind,” he added.
It’s the second time this year that a barge collision has partially closed the bridge, which also severely impacted the Highlands community back in February. While it took about three months the first time, it will certainly take much longer to repair the bridge this time around.
“I’ve talked to a couple of people that have a pretty keen eye for how the traffic has impacted their business and the community as a whole, not just businesses but people who live here. Trying to get in and out to get to work, or even just get to Baytown,” Woods said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get out of Highlands, and once you do, it’s hard to get back in.”