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Closure of First Avenue Catches Some Businesses, Drivers by Surprise

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Thousands of drivers passing through downtown Cedar Rapids will have to find a way around one big traffic bottleneck for the rest of the week.

Contractors began a push to finish the arena, hotel and exhibition hall project and that forced the closing of First Avenue S.E. beginning Wednesday morning. The barricades went up at 6:30 a.m. in the area adjacent to the new convention center complex. The road may stay closed for up to five days while contractors hoist a skywalk into place and finish other jobs that would require blocking part of the busy street.

Craig Hanson, Public Works maintenance manager for the city, said it was a difficult decision to close part of First Avenue for most of a week because an average of 60,000 to 80,000 cars a day drive through the closed section. But he said when considering safety, there was no other option.

"We're trying to get it all done and for them to actually install the skywalk they needed to cross the whole thing. From a safety point of view there is no good alternative other than to close the whole road," Hanson said.

Hanson said the city had previously closed a nearby section of First Avenue in June of 2011 to remove an old skywalk structure. But that happened on a Saturday and the disruption lasted just one day. He said on the first day of the detour, drivers seemed to be coping and either taking the official detour route or finding their own way around.

Erin Maeder, who was downtown for lunch on Wednesday, said she didn't know what was going on until she saw the "road closed" signs.

"It wasn't a huge deal because you could always go around. But it was unexpected," she said.

Other downtown pedestrians and drivers noted how quiet that normally busy stretch of First Avenue was over the noon hour. One driver, Laura Kay Sheely, actually wondered if the city could have celebrated the closing by making it a public event.

"I think they could have taken advantage of the closure a little better. Maybe we could have had a block party of something...we could all wear hard hats," Sheely joked.

One restaurant manager downtown said he hadn't heard about the closing before it happened and was a bit surprised when he got to work Wednesday morning.

Still, Tony Thompson who manages Jersey's Pub & Grub, was expecting a 25 to 30 percent boost in business when the convention center complex opens in just a few weeks.

"For a few days, it will hurt. But like I said the benefits of the convention center will outweigh it—so we're looking forward to that for sure," Thompson said.

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