Ever since FM 646 closed at Interstate 45 in March, Sherri Ramey has rationed her shopping trips to the east side of the interstate.
The traffic and detours caused by the project have been just enough of a hassle that it would take a good reason to shop at some of the stores across the great divide, she said.
“I’m not shopping over there as often,” Ramey, of League City, said from the parking lot of an H-E-B on the west side of interstate. “My Target runs have been limited.”
Ramey and others have finally found some shopping relief, as the Texas Department of Transportation recently opened the east-west section of FM 646 to two-way traffic.
The opening is months earlier than the department had originally planned.
The direct route across the interstate has been closed since March 1. Over the past four months, the Texas Department of Transportation has worked to build a road that will go under the interstate. The work was part of the multi-year project to add lanes to the interstate between Houston and Galveston.
The FM 646 closure meant that drivers trying to reach businesses near Exit 20 would sometimes have needed to drive miles more north or south to turn around and reach their destination.
In an area with dozens of retail businesses and restaurants, some shoppers and workers said the extra burden caused by the closure had driven some business away and tested the patience of people who regularly use the road.
Sitting inside the lobby at Salon Naturale, at 1720 FM 646, Kendra Pain, of Santa Fe, said she has had to navigate the detours nearly every day to take her daughter to volleyball practice.
“I can see what the benefits will be later, once it’s finished,” she said. “But right now, it’s annoying.”
Some businesses in the area said people avoiding the construction zone had hit their bottom lines.
“We’ve been kind of hurt a little bit because of the construction and blockages that have been going on,” said Amy Gonzalez, the manager of the Beef Jerky Outlet, at 2451 Interstate 45. “It definitely has hurt us for sure.”
The effects were felt harder by some than by others.
In early March, the owners of the Olympia Grill, at 2535 Interstate 45, shuttered the restaurant just five months after opening the location. The owners of the restaurant partly blamed the detours from the construction work for the business’ failure.
Other businesses and property owners took extra steps to ensure people stayed interested in braving the construction and coming to the area, said Manish Maheshwari, who, with business partners, owns franchises Little Bella Mia and Coco Crepes, Waffles & Coffee, at 2471 Interstate 45.
In recent months, Maheshwari has held events, including fundraisers for local nonprofits, to continue to draw people to his business locations.
“For the past three months, we’ve tried to cut our costs as we go through this phase,” he said. “We’ve done multiple events to generate interest and generate business.”
The opening of an east-west passage will be nice, but the end of the highway project is still years off, Maheshwari said.
With the underpass opened, the transportation department will begin work on an interstate bridge for southbound traffic. That part of the project is not scheduled to be complete until 2020.
“We all are excited, but what’s next?” Maheshwari said. “It’s not over.”