The bridge closing at the Draper exit on I-81 has wreaked havoc this month on the nine businesses that help make up the Draper Village.
By this week, however, some strategically placed signage along the interstate seems to be helping the situation.
Virginia Department of Transportation closed for repairs the bridge over I-81 that allows southbound interstate traffic to drive into Draper on May 1, and that bridge work is due to continue until mid-August.
Southbound I-81 travelers can use Exit 92 but can’t get to the Draper Village from there due to the work. They either have to leave I-81 at Exit 94 and head south on alternative routes – or take Exit 89 and double-back to Draper.
Northbound I-81 travelers aren’t hampered by the bridge work, although once exiting at Draper they may be a bit confused by the “road closed,” “local traffic only” and “detour” signs they encounter.
Representatives of several of the nine Draper Village businesses complained about getting no advance notice of the bridge work, the poorly worded signs and how the entire situation has cost them loads of business.
Kate Nipper, who heads up marketing efforts for the Village’s businesses, wondered why they weren’t told beforehand of the bridge work.
“I found out from seeing the signs,” she told Supervisors last week.
She said travelers getting off I-81 bring a lot of income into the county, and much of the Village’s business comes from those travelers heading south to the beach.
She said in the three weeks since the bridge closing, business at the Village has dropped by some 48 percent.
“Not many businesses can sustain those kinds of losses. They’re all worried,” Nipper told the supervisors.
Nipper said she was seeking more and less confusing signage – especially at Exit 94 to help cure the problem.
Curtis Brown of Spinning Jenny Vineyard said his business opening was marred by rain and the bridge closing.
“It wasn’t a very good start,” he said.
Brown also expressed concern over the increasing traffic in the general area near the old Draper school due to traffic tie-ups on the interstate, as well as the numbers of potholes, the lack of shoulder maintenance and high grass along the roadways.
Chad Jones, co-owner with his wife and executive chef at Brunch at the Merc, said his weekend sales had fallen by 66 percent.
“That’s the business that keeps you afloat,” Jones told the supervisors.
Debbie Gardner who, along with her husband, established the Draper Village said there are nine businesses in the Village, which is actually a business incubator. The businesses share costs for things such as marketing.
“So, we can survive and help each other,” she said.
Gardner asked the supervisors that – if directional signs are put up to help travelers get to the Village – she asked that they be left up after the bridge work is completed.
“A lot of people don’t even know what’s going on in Draper,” she said.
Since the supervisors’ meeting, things have changed for the better, as some new and strategically placed signage along the interstate seems to be helping the situation.
“I’m happy to report they have made significant improvements in regard to directing traffic – first to Pulaski,” Nipper reported Thursday.
“They have put up two electronic message boards – one before the 94 Exit saying, ‘Draper Exit Bridge Closed – Use Pulaski Exit Follow Detour.’ They have also put a board close to Exit 101, which tells travelers to tune to 1640 AM for more information on the Draper exit. Once you get off the exit, signs have been added that point toward the detour and read ‘DRAPER’ underneath.
“I feel like all of these things have certainly helped and we are very grateful for the swift response,” Nipper added.
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot