ST. LOUIS — Forget about produce transportation routes.
Charles Gallagher Sr., chairman of the board of United Fruit & Produce Co. on Produce Row, had a big beef with the construction taking place on a 5-mile stretch of highway between his home and place of business. And it had nothing to do with his company’s operations or produce.
“I had to go out this afternoon and get my glasses fixed, and the place was right where all the construction is going on,” Gallagher said in late June. There is a massive project taking place on Interstate 64/U.S. Highway 40, a major east-west route running through the center of the city. “It was a huge mess. I had to take several detours and starts and stops. What typically would take 30 minutes took me about an hour-and-a-half.”
The $535 million project has moved to Phase 2, with I-64/U.S. 40 closed between Brentwood and Kingshighway, a few miles west of downtown. The project, which started in March 2007, will widen I-64 and replace bridges and interchanges. It is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.
While it certainly slowed Gallagher from getting his eyeglasses fixed, most in the industry say it hasn’t affected their businesses much at all.
“Everybody anticipated the end of the world, but (the Missouri Department of Transportation) has really taken care of it,” said Sam Sanfillipo, chief executive officer for Sun Farm Foodservice. “St. Louis is a wonderful city to get around. Everything heads to the downtown area. I’ve never seen a city like it. We were concerned, but it hasn’t been a problem at all.”
Vince Mantia, president of William Mantia Fruit Co., said he wouldn’t doubt the closure of 64/ 40 took a good chunk out of downtown traffic. But, he said one of his favorite local restaurants, Mosaic, was right in the midst of the construction zone, and he thought it hadn’t been hurt.
“I think it’s doing well,” he said.
Others have simply re-routed around the construction zone. Jeff Moore, vice president-sales, Midwest region for Springfield, Ill.-based Tom Lange Co., said his company has a division, Lange Logistics, which helps position carriers and route them efficiently.
“Most of my guys come in on (Interstate 70) or (Highway 55),” said Neno Pupillo, broker and salesman for H.R. Bushman & Son Corp. “They were going around the road construction anyway. A lot of people are ordering last minute now, so time is of the essence.”
Those probably most affected are the retail outlets that are in the path of the road work.
“Traffic snarls might have hurt our Clayton location a bit,” said Marvin McDonald, produce category specialist for William A. Straub. “(Our new Ellisville store) is too far north.”
Most of those retailers, however, know the disruptions are coming and simply plan accordingly.
“Highway 40 is my main artery,” said Mike O’Brien, vice president of produce for Schnuck Markets Inc. “But this phase hasn’t affected us. You have some stores lose business, but others pick it up. We just try to budget for it.”
No matter the planning or rerouting, all will be more than happy to see the construction completed.
“Our Brentwood store is in the middle of it, and it’s one of our best stores,” said Steve Duello, category manager-produce, Dierbergs Markets Inc. “You have a real difficult time getting in there. We’re really anticipating December getting here so we can get past that.
“We’ll be thrilled to get that road work over with.”