Boise & Garden City

Boise bridge closure slows business south of the river

Business at the Broadway Avenue Pita Pit dropped as soon as the barriers went up last month.

Before the Broadway Avenue Bridge closed the first week of January, nearly 25,000 cars and trucks a day drove past the fast-food restaurant, according to traffic figures from the Idaho Transportation Department.

Since the closure, most traffic that might reach Pita Pit is diverted before it gets there. Traffic over the Boise River will not resume until at least fall, when a new bridge is expected to be completed.

“I’m not used to sitting here and not see cars come by. It’s a ghost town,” said Pita Pit owner Nick Epler, looking out the window at the nearly deserted street one day last week.

Overall, business is down about 45 percent at Broadway, typically the busiest of his locations in Boise and Meridian.

“We didn’t know what the impact would be,” Epler said. “This has been devastating, and it’s going to be a lean nine months.”

The bridge across the Boise River, built in 1956, was closed so it could be demolished and replaced with a new structure. The new, $20.2 million bridge will feature six traffic lanes, 10-foot-wide sidewalks, three 18-foot-wide scenic overlooks on both sides, and stairs and ramps to the Boise Greenbelt.

Area traffic is being diverted to West ParkCenter Boulevard via Beacon Street. Motorists can also take Boise Avenue or West University Drive to South Capitol Boulevard.

An Idaho Statesman report last month said the impact to businesses on the north side of the river had been minimal, but it’s just the opposite on the other side, despite their proximity to Boise State University’s more than 24,000 students, faculty and staff members.

Epler said he was forced to cut one employee from each of the store’s two to three daily shifts. The restaurant has about 15 workers, some who work full time and a number of BSU students who log part-time hours. Epler said he spread the cuts among all of his workers so he didn’t have to lay off anyone.

“We have a student demographic where they walk up, but the majority of our business — probably 80 percent — is drive-up traffic,” Epler said.

Across the street at Baja Fresh Mexican Grill, the experience is much the same. Normally, the restaurant is filled between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. for lunch. Now it’s fairly empty, shift leader Alex Hernandez said.

“We usually get a lot of people from the other side of the bridge: courthouse people and St. Luke’s and all of Downtown. We’re not getting any of those people,” she said.

Many of her customers only have a half-hour for lunch, Hernandez said, and those people coming from north of the bridge have been discouraged because the detour adds several minutes to the trip.

“Everyone who comes in to our place for lunch tells us they have never seen it this dead before,” Hernandez said.

Two employees were laid off because of the drop in business, Hernandez said. That was done to preserve as many hours as possible for other workers, many of whom have worked there for more than five years.

“We want to keep hours for them so they don’t think they have to go look for another job,” she said.

Both restaurants offer delivery service, but that has suffered as well, Epler and Hernandez said. Deliveries take twice as long, so fewer customers have called to place those orders.

Meanwhile, Epler said he is considering talking with his neighbors about running radio spots promoting the businesses and drawing attention to them while construction continues.

Outside Chili’s Grill and Bar, a reader board announces the restaurant is open. However, it’s hard to read until motorists heading north on Broadway get to University Drive. And there’s little drive-by traffic, except for motorists who intentionally continue on Broadway past University.

There’s an orange highway sign announcing business access, but it’s located past the Chili’s sign, before a driveway leading into the business.

Forrest Ercanbrack, the general manager at Chili’s, said he wants the Idaho Transportation Department to install another sign closer to University Drive letting motorists know that Chili’s and other nearby businesses are still open.

Ercanbrack said he has noticed a slight downturn in lunch business since the bridge closed. He said he figures fewer people are coming from Downtown Boise. January and February are typically slow months, but business usually picks up again after the Super Bowl.

“I’m hoping it will pick back up like it normally does,” Ercanbrack said. “I still think it will have a little bit of an impact on us.”

John Sowell: 208-377-6423, @IDS_Sowell

Boise River available for summer floating, tubing

Recreationists will have access to the entire stretch of the Boise River between Barber Park and Ann Morrison Park during the summer floating season.

The river is currently closed to any activity as the Broadway Bridge is being demolished. However, the contract with general contractor Knife River calls for the company to accommodate summer floaters.

The river will be open from mid-June to Labor Day, according to a memo sent from ITD engineer Daris Bruce to Scott Koberg, director of Ada County Parks & Waterways, which oversees floating the river. Floaters will be able to remain in the river while crossing the construction zone at Broadway.

The contractor is allowed to close the river between sundown and 10 a.m., even during the summer, to provide safety for construction-related activities.

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