Small Town's Economy On The Mend After Bridge Reopens

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PORTLAND - The bridge through the heart of this Missouri town of fewer than 400 in southeastern Callaway County looked sturdy and smooth Friday after a month-and-a-half of renovations, but aesthetics aren't the reason residents of Portland are rejoicing.

They're happy because the recovery process can now begin after the only path through town on Route 94 reopened on Tuesday, an inconvenience which motorists said caused 20 to 25-mile detours through alternate rural highways.

The bridge may span fewer yards than a football field, but without it, residents in Portland had no other options to reach places like the post office -- which sits just feet from the bridge -- or the Riverfront Bar and Grill, located just down the road on Route 94.

Ronald Cowen, who officially bought the bar with his wife three days before the closure on July 9, said the lack of access to the bridge essentially ruined his business for 43 days.

"I'd say we lost 60 percent of clientele," Cowen said. "They're moving back in, but it's going to take a while. And we expected that."

Danny Thomas, who lives less than a mile west of the bridge, said the closure forced his granddaughter to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to catch the bus to summer school. He said the traffic quieted down during that span, though, which provided a nice change of pace.

"It was, heck, an extra 30 minutes of drive time for the bus," Spencer said.

On Friday, Thomas said he drove over the new pavement for the first time, a sharp contrast from the other bridge, which a resident said was originally built in the late 1940s.

"I liked the old bridge better," Thomas said, only partly joking. "That way, they didn't speed up the hill here."