RIVER ROUGE (WWJ) – After three years of delays, repairs to a bridge that links River Rouge to southwest Detroit are finally nearing completion.
Built in 1922, the Jefferson Avenue drawbridge was heavily damaged in May 2013 after a drunk bridge operator lowered it onto a passing freighter.
For years the bridge sat idle. The closure not only cut off traffic between the cities, but it also cut off an economic lifeline for businesses along Jefferson Avenue.
“Actually, a lot of people who go to the casinos go through Jefferson right here and a lot of people who go downtown take Jefferson,” OJ Juwad, owner of the Marathon gas station and convenience store at Jefferson and Coolidge, told WWJ’s Ron Dewey. “Businesses that work over the bridge come this way for their supplies, their cigarettes, their pop, their gas. We don’t see these people no more.”
But now, road crews say the bridge is on track to re-open this fall. Frustrated businesses and residents who posted orange signs around town that read “Fix The Damn Bridge” are anxiously awaiting the day they can tear them down.
“Hopefully, the city revives again and people start using Jefferson like they did before,” said Juwad.
At least 20 businesses were forced to close because of the drop in traffic on West Jefferson. Dusty Denning, a waitress at the River Rouge Coney Island just down the street from the bridge, said they lost a lot of customers to the detour.
“There’s so many more places to eat right there, you know, because they’ve got to go around to Fort Street so they might as well eat over there. Why come around this way,” she said.
Other businesses that stayed open, like Juwad’s, had to make cutbacks to scrape by.
“That’s why I’m here right now,” he said. “I’m the owner and I come in at 6 o’clock in the morning to try to cover the gap.”
The bridge is expected to re-open sometime this fall, Wayne County officials said.