Small town merchants happy I-40 bridge repairs nearly over

Friday, July 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GORE, Okla. (AP) _ For the past two months, small eastern Oklahoma towns have been inundated with traffic that has been diverted off Interstate 40 because of the deadly bridge collapse.

Gore has borne the brunt of the detour efforts, with a flag bearers stationed 24 hours a day along U.S. 64.

Bill Shope, 77, began filling in a few weeks ago when two men fell ill.

``It gets hectic,'' said Shope, a Gore fire captain. ``Everybody in hot weather is impatient. Everybody is in a rush. But when these trains come through and it ties things up for 15 minutes, there's nothing you can do about it.''

Fourteen people were killed when their vehicles plunged into the Arkansas River on May 26.

Because of the gap in the highway, transportation officials had to reroute vehicles onto smaller highways that wind through eastern Oklahoma.

In addition to inconvenience, the greater traffic has resulted in less, not more, business for town merchants.

``People don't want to stop in this traffic,'' Shope said. ``It irritates everybody trying to get back and forth to work.

``These trucks are beating these roads to pieces. They weren't built for that.''

Pat Young said the detour had ``killed'' her snowcone business, which she runs as a sideline to her flower shop on the town's main thoroughfare.

``The locals can't get through,'' she said. ``Like the farmers say, `This year's good. Next year may not be.' You just have to accept it.''

Young and Shope are happy that work to rebuild the collapsed bridge could be completed a week ahead of schedule.

``I'm ready,'' Young said. ``Everybody's been really patient, really considerate and really nice. But let's get them out of here.''

In Webbers Falls, Nona Taylor said revenues at her convenience store had dropped about 28 percent. The shop is at an intersection that's been made more dangerous by the added traffic.

``I've seen I don't know how many people almost get run over trying to pull out of here,'' she said. ``So they just don't pull in.''

Except to use the restroom.

From May to June, Taylor said, her monthly water bill went to $188 from $116, an increase she attributes directly to the increase in restroom users.

LaNoma Finley, who runs a convenience store north of Gore, finds the quick work surprising.

``I just hope it was done properly and we don't have this problem again,'' she said. ``I don't want to be the first one to go across it.''