Construction on Exit 79 takes toll on businesses

Published 10:00 am Saturday, February 17, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

As the construction taking place at Exit 79 into Valley continues, some businesses are struggling. 

Currently, multiple lanes at Exit 79 are closed for a reconstruction process, turning what was once a four-lane overpass, which connects Lanett and Valley on US-29, into a two-lane road. With the cones and barriers out, some businesses off of the exit have found themselves cut off from the highway traffic.

“[Exit 79 is] the first exit in Alabama so it’s a great time to stop and get something to eat and we love that, but at this time, we can’t really depend on that traffic flow and that tourism,” said Carrie Wood, director of the Greater Valley Area Chamber of Commerce (GVACC). 

Email newsletter signup

Laura Cruz is the manager of the Raceway gas station that sits right off of the southbound ramp of the exit, entering into the Lanett side. The station has been hit hard just in the week since construction began. 

“I am going to have to lay off one of my workers,” Cruz said sadly. 

She said the station is making too little money to keep all of the staff while construction is going on. These doors were closed at 11 p.m. yesterday and will do so today. Usually, the station is open 24 hours. Cruz worries that if construction takes too long she will have to continue to lay off workers. 

Cruz added that some of her employees have kids and being out of work for the six weeks the first phase of construction will take, is impossible.

“If we don’t make any money, you can’t keep them on until they get done. In the meantime, what are they going to do? So they’re working one day to another, and we don’t want to do that. But we don’t have a choice,” Cruz said as an employee’s children played in the store. “It is really sad.” 

Cruz had gone into the Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday looking for some support. The Chamber posted on their Facebook pages about the situation and asked for commuters to help. Right now the station is only making $1000 a day, which is too low for a gas station to run and pay employees around the clock. 

“It is so hard because [out-of-towners] can’t come up. Cruz said referring to the orange cones making it difficult to turn into or see the Raceway’s parking lot. “So we just pretty much have local people, but people are not coming through the interstate.”

Carrie Wood, the Director of the GVACC reiterated the necessity of local patrons.

“I think at this time, we need to fall on our local people to help support these businesses that are in the immediate area of Exit 79.”

Cruz also worries about her employees’ and customers’ safety, with the drastic change in lanes. 

“It can cause a lot of wrecks because it’s so hard to see at night. And early in the morning when people go to school it’s really hard to get in,” Cruz said. 

Raceway is not the only business that is seeing less foot traffic due to the road traffic. 

“I want to [customers] to come, like before they started construction… After the construction is kind of slow, like really slow,” said Kenny Tores, a manager of Yiannis Kitchen, a Greek restaurant on the Valley side of the interstate.

“It may take a little bit more time but these are also the businesses that support our community and support us all year long. Just take that extra time to go down and shop with them. If you are a business or organization make a point to order lunch or get food from these businesses,” Wood said. 

Phase 1 of the reconstruction will take approximately six weeks to complete, according to the Alabama Department of Transportation. It is addressing the northern part of the interchange, and the ramps going north and south on the Lanett side of the exit.  

Phase two will tackle the southern portion and the ramps on the Valley side. This phase will also include traffic detours. The first two phases are expected to be completed by May 2024, with a break after the first phase. Phase three will be treating the bridge deck and will not affect traffic.