FLORENCE — Sitting at the Florence Diner with his wife, Steven Salfelder said he didn’t think the new overpass would change much, especially in the long run.
“Talking to real estate agents, they’ve always had people (move here) from the base so that won’t stop — in fact it might accelerate — the worst thing that will happen is this place will become a bedroom community,” he said.
While traffic on the four-lane, Business 195 — a commuter’s former way to travel between Georgetown and Killeen — was at a trickle Tuesday afternoon as drivers took the new State Highway 195 route, many businesses remained mixed on how the lack of thru-traffic has hit them so far.
“We’ve just seen it slow down a little, but we still have regulars,” said Moordin Monin, owner of one of the gas stations along Business 195, explaining he’s heard of other gas stations that had been hit harder.
Nearly two months have passed since federal, state and local officials opened the State Highway 195 bypass on the east side of Florence on Oct. 28.
The multimillion dollar, 17-mile project was constructed to make the commute from Austin to Killeen safer because the highway was known for being one of the most dangerous in Texas because of drunken driving incidents.
And although Florence always has been the small town sandwiched along the route, The Gettin’ Place co-owner Shane Elms, who runs the country western apparel store on Main Street, said he thinks shops along Main Street will continue with business as usual, as a whole.
“There’s been less foot traffic. They mostly weren’t buying anything anyway, but they did come by and see the store,” he said, explaining his and others’ regular customer base live in the city.
To keep business going, the Florence Chamber of Commerce has been preparing for a possible worst-case scenario.
“We had a meeting not long after the ribbon-cutting, and we decided to meet Jan. 1 to kinda get things started,’ said Robert Chambers, the president of the Florence chamber.
A six-member task force made up of local business owners will attempt to stabilize business through advertising methods and signage, he said.
“There’s a big difference in traffic now, the (bypass) took about 90 percent of the traffic out of town,” he said. “It’s still a little early, but some are starting to hurt a little bit. Others are about in the same boat, they haven’t seen a decrease but they haven’t seen an increase in business either.”
Nevertheless, while some businesses are looking to maintain, others placed themselves strategically closer to the new roadway.
“It’s been so busy here every day since Nov. 1,” said Christy Daniell, who opened D. Boones’ Country Store and gas station off the new road. “That’s a good problem to have.”