Merchants relieved over Route 32 reopening

By Linda Seida, Staff Writer
   Business owners along Route 32 in Bucks County are delighted to have the road open again, but now they face the challenge of bringing back the customers they’ve lost.
   Route 32, also known as River Road, was heavily damaged by floods in 2004, 2005 and 2006. The 1,800-foot section between Greenhill Road and Route 263 reopened Aug. 1.
   PennDOT undertook a $1.3 million repair project in November. Crews constructed a concrete retaining wall and installed a new guide rail and six stormwater inlets and drainage pipes. They also installed a clay liner along the sides and bottom of the Delaware Canal.
   ”We really had a wonderful weekend, and it showed how much influence the road can have,” said Joseph Maxian, a co-owner of Sand Castle Winery on River Road in Erwinna. “Thank God the road is open, even though it’s a little bit delayed.”
   Mr. Maxian estimated the winery lost about a third of its business during the road closing.
   ”The main thing is, what the businesses lost is continuance,” he said. “This is something, which we need to get back.”
   One of his customers couldn’t follow the detour. In great distress on unfamiliar country roads, he phoned the winery.
   ”It was heartbreaking,” Mr. Maxian said. “Somebody was almost crying. These people were driving around for about an hour, at least.”
   ”These back country roads can be very confusing,” said Golden Pheasant Inn owner Barbara Faure.
   The inn on River Road in Erwinna began as a mule barge stop in the mid-1800s, and offers dining as well as lodging. Ms. Faure said the locals continued their patronage, but “we obviously lost a tremendous amount of drive-by traffic.”
   Mr. Maxian remained optimistic the winery could save the remainder of the summer and even flourish in the fall.
   ”The farmer is always an optimist,” he said. “The farmer is always looking ahead. We definitely think we can salvage half the summer and the autumn, the busiest season.”
   The winery plans more marketing to bring customers back.
   ”We have to,” he said.
   Targeted audiences will include North Jersey and Manhattan as well as Bucks County.
   ”We’re just happy the road is open,” Ms. Faure said. “We’re hoping people will recognize the fact the road is open.”
   ”It takes enormous effort to beat it in people’s heads that it’s open,” Mr. Maxian said. “PennDOT should advertise in newspapers and pound it into people. I guess we have to do it individually with our limited funds.”
   ”A lot of people have just given up on the road because the state has no marketing,” Ms. Faure said.
   PennDOT does not plan to advertise, according to spokesman Charles Metzger. However, he said, PennDOT has been working to get the word out with the River Road Business Alliance, the Bucks County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce and the Indian Valley Chamber of Commerce.
   PennDOT tried to be sensitive to businesses’ needs, but that added to the length of repair time, according to Mr. Metzger.
   ”We had a design that could have been implemented last summer, but businesses asked us to hold off,” he said. “Then businesses called and said, ‘It’s Christmas,’ and we only worked Monday to Thursday through the holidays.”
   PennDOT began repair designs after the first flood, including taking measurements, performing geologic and hydrologic surveys in preparation for the building of the retaining wall. Then the second flood hit.
   PennDOT again began repair designs, only to be halted by another flood, Mr. Metzger said.
   ”After the third flood and nine sections of damage, we had to meet with local officials and make sure they were aware of the plan and the traffic impacts,” he said.