Construction on Interstate 35 has drawbacks and benefits for businesses in the small tourist village of Salado.
“We love the fact that the construction is occurring, and we are very excited about what it is going to be like in the future,” said Nicole Stairs, chamber of commerce president.
Texas Department of Transportation officials broke ground on a more than 3-mile stretch of I-35 from Farm-to-Market 2843 to FM 2484 on Jan. 5, 2012, according to the agency’s project tracking website.
The $87.9 million project will add lanes and change the frontage roads, creating better access to the village and the highway.
The project’s contractor, Baton Rouge, La.-based James Construction, said the work is about 35 percent complete. The project was estimated to take 920 working days; crews have spent about 420 days on the site, according to TxDOT.
Gail Allard, owner of Salado Glassworks, and
Susan Petro, owner of the Inn at Salado, said the highway construction negatively impacted their businesses by making it harder for travelers to enter town.
“I was in business before it started, and I can definitely see a difference between business at the end of 2011 and now,” Allard said. “The town is not as busy.”
Petro said the inn is probably better off than some businesses because it is a destination spot and people choose the bed and breakfast before they come to town.
“(But construction) has taken away from extra foot traffic,” she said.
Allard adjusted Salado Glassworks’ business strategy to keep customers coming to his shop, he said. He began holding regular blow-your-own-glass events that people book in advance.
“We are surviving because we have participation events,” Allard said. “I am not on Main Street. If people are out driving into town, they don’t see me. ... I have to make people want to come to my shop. I have to make them want to bear the horrible construction to get here.”
There is a “flip side” to having the construction, Stairs said. Sometimes, more people are getting off the highway when there are accidents or heavy traffic on the interstate.
“A lot of business owners are seeing new people in town, some of whom say they were sitting in traffic and thought they would come through town,” Stairs said.
When traffic gets really heavy, Allard has seen more people downtown as well.
According to the state comptroller’s office, Salado’s sales tax revenue issued in November was down by almost 11 percent compared to the same time last year. Year-to-date sales tax revenues were down by about 2.6 percent.
Overall sales in Salado are about $1.5 million less for the first two quarters of 2013 compared to 2012.
A decline in sales tax revenue can’t be solely attributed to highway construction, Stairs said. Several businesses in the village closed this year because of retirements or illnesses.
“We did have a couple of stores that were staples in the community close down,” Stairs said.
New businesses expected
New stores will begin to take their places and with more frequency once the construction is complete, she said.
“We will start to see new businesses come in and start to open when the highway is finished,” Petro said.
Exiting and entering the highway could be tricky before construction.
Once the project is completed, it will be easier to maneuver and look nicer, too, she said.
Artists, including Allard, were commissioned to decorate portions of the highway so it has a “Salado feel,” he said. “It will put us on the map a little bit as far as neat places to stop. Because this construction has gone through, we will have some neat artwork to show off to travelers.”