When Caltrans Closed the Bridge Between Rio Dell and Scotia Without Much Warning, Business Dropped and Owners Are Scared

Green Bean Rio Dell

The Green Bean in Rio Dell [Image from Tawny Morse]

Tawny Morse thought she had done all the research needed before opening her new coffee/sandwich shop in Rio Dell–the Green Bean. She looked at the expanding demographics in the town and spoke to city government about whether there would be businesses with similar items for sale.  But, she didn’t know that Caltrans was going to close the bridge that connected Scotia with Rio Dell for a long-term painting project. When it did on March 12, she and other business owners say they saw a dramatic drop in the daily number of customers.

“I really wanted to offer something…unique and personal and found Rio Dell to be a perfect fit for the type of business I was looking to open,” Morse explained. “Now I feel very scared that something like a painting project…could destroy everything.”

After the first day of full closure, Morse said she discovered that she was bringing in an average of $150 per day less. “It is awful,” she stressed. “It was like instantaneous. It wasn’t gradual.”

Dorothy Johnson who has run D.J.’s Burger Bar in Rio Dell for 21 years agreed in an interview this weekend. “We are not even at a quarter of what we usually do on a Saturday,” she worried. “I will be lucky to make wages and pay for the food that I sold.” She added tightly, “Usually Saturdays are booming days.”

April Ash who runs Emerald’s Edge Boutique, a gift store that began about three months ago, said that when the shop first opened, business was doing “pretty well.” However, Ash said no one warned her that the bridge would be closed. She said, on Monday the 12th, she noticed business was really dead. Tuesday, she said, the shop was empty. Wednesday, she said she went out to look around and “What the heck? I saw a sign that the bridge could be closed ’til November 1.”

Rio Dell’s City Manager, Kyle Knopp blames Caltrans. “From our perspective, we didn’t receive any notification,” he said. “We learned from an alert bus driver looking for an alternative route.”

Knopp explained, “We understand that the bridge has to be maintained but we were disappointed that there was no notification either directly to the business owners or to the city or that there wasn’t even considered to have one-way controlled traffic as an option.”

crop of a Caltrans photo Sign Scotia detour

A sign on Hwy 101 southbound tells drivers not to drive through Rio Dell if they want to reach Scotia.[Crop of a photo from Caltrans ]

A spokesperson for Caltrans, Myles Cochrane, said the job requires stripping the paint, cleaning the bridge and painting with multiple coats. In addition, the bridge must be completely wrapped so that everything is contained to protect the river.

Cochrane said that having one-way controlled traffic through the bridge could extend the length of the paint job to two years. “That could waste taxpayer money,” he explained.

Caltrans is sympathetic to the businesses and has already met with those who are worried, Cochrane said. “We absolutely realize that it is not ideal,” he explained. “We understand the concerns of the public there.” But, he said, the detour is relatively small. “This is one of the shortest routes,” he pointed out. “People who need to go from Scotia to Rio Dell, they can just hop on 101.”

Accommodations have also already been made for non-vehicle traffic to continue on the same roadway. “Pedestrians and cyclists will be able to cross the bridge throughout the length of the project (and [through] an enclosed walkway when painting occurs),” explains a Caltrans post on Facebook last Thursday. 

Cochrane also said that Caltrans is willing to work with the owners to do even more to alert the public to their options. “We updated the changeable message signs already” to make the detour more clear, he said. “We are going to look at updating the language on Quickmap. We are going to make a plan to make periodical posts saying these are the exits you should use.”

UPDATE: Caltrans said that electronic signage posted the closure about two weeks previous to the job fully starting. Cochrane said, “[T]he CMSs were up as of the morning of Tuesday, February 27.”

Morse, the Green Bean owner, is still worried. “Right now if it is not tourist season, I can’t imagine my numbers changing from any kind of signage,” she says. The locals know the options, she points out. But they don’t want to use them because they are inconvenient.

Johnson, who owns D.J.’s, said she knows the commute firsthand. “I buy my hamburger fresh every day from Hoby’s, [a market in Scotia],” she explained. “It isn’t that long. Probably 10 minutes extra round trip.” But she says that extra ten minutes can be hard on people commuting during a lunch hour. “The guys from the [Scotia] Mill will come over and grab lunch,” she said. “It takes longer because they have to go up the freeway and backtrack.” In an attempt to help, she has told her regulars to call in their orders and she’ll have their food waiting when they get there.

City Manager Kevin Knopp is hopeful though. He said that prior to the bridge closing, “The city going into the summer was in the best position that it has been in for quite some time since probably pre-recession.” The new cannabis zone at the north end of Rio Dell in the Eel River Business park “has piqued interest,” he explained. He has hopes that, in spite of the bridge, the impact of construction crews working there through the summer will help mitigate the slowdown in business from the bridge work.

“There will be construction crews out there and getting lunch,” he explained. “Initially, there will 50,000 square feet of manufacturing and value-added, Knopp said. Later, he said there will be more. This, he said, will add “between 50 and 100 living wage jobs” to the local economy. “There is the potential for prosperity for the city out of this. This is about survival not just for Rio Dell but the county as a whole. We have developers with incredible visions that include cannabis tourism.”

However, Ash, the gift shop owner, is still very worried. She said the bridge closing is destroying businesses at the south end of town. “People…use to come off the freeway and drive through town,” she said. “Now there is no traffic flow.”

She added, “I wouldn’t have started a business there knowing [the bridge] was going to be closed…Right next to us is a business that just opened…Since they started to work on the bridge, we’re both slowly dying.”

She said she used to have between five to eight customers per day. Now, she says, “It’s basically down to nobody.”

Morse, owner of the Green Bean, says as a business owner facing the next year it is hard. She explained, “You are not even wondering if it is going to be bad. You know it is going to be bad.” For new businesses, she worries, it will be especially hard.

“How many will be left at the end of six months?” she asked.

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68 comments

  • As far as I know I don’t think Cal Trans ever coughed up the reimbursement to Charlie Hansen for bypassing his Gas station when they put in the Hwy 36 overpass!!! They promised him they would since they killed his business!!! To the best of my knowledge I don’t think they ever did!!! Another example of how Cal Trans serves themselves & NOT THE Public!!!!

    • Veteran's Friend

      That was the worst example of CALTRANS (non)planning ever. I could have done a better job of design on that interchange. And it really appeared deliberate. “Hmmm, how can we get rid of the most convenient, cheapest fuel stop in the county? I know, bypass it with a new interchange that makes it nearly impossible for big rigs to access. That’ll do it”

      • Our new shop is in the old truck stop and as a driver I have to say it’s VERY accessable, and I love the on and offramps there now, it’s much better now and I can say that with experience as I have been going there before the exchange to the old truck stop, now it’s way better getting back on 101 safely, you’re much closer to the speed of traffic when you merge in from the on ramp….WAY safer too!

    • That completely sucked!

    • Cal trans is awful! That project for the 36 went on waaaayyy too long, used a ridiculous amount of resources and was bad planning.
      I miss Hansens, beyond the convenient gas it and the restaurant were a piece of humboldt history. Sad every time I drive by

  • Nothing to do with weed going legal?

    • Veteran's Friend

      That is just stupid.

      • Stupid that the number one driving force in our economy just saw its value plummet? And that people aren’t heading into towns nobody goes to anyway? OK. Maybe these people spend more time advertising why their businesses are worth going to and less time trying to blame others and get a quick buck from taxpayers.

        • Maybe next time build a bridge that doesn’t require painting, when was the last time they painted fernbridge, just dumb, more job security, bs

  • Caltrans Public Information

    Another small additional measure Caltrans is taking: We recently heard from the Resident Engineer that while the current project is underway the Department will be accelerating an ADA sidewalk project on both sides of the bridge, nixing a future potential six weeks of one-way traffic control there.

    The local economy is important to us and we appreciate input and opportunities that will help it. Caltrans will continue to prioritize clear and ever-improving communications with local municipalities, chambers of commerce, and businesses. Regarding this particular project, the Department will be actively seeking more opportunities to wrap things up earlier than expected if possible.

  • CalTrans bypass putting people out of business.
    See what it did to the Alton truck stop.
    Could there be State paid restitution, compensation? Caltrans is a State agency. (not a serious suggestion)
    Shutter the shops for 9 months, keep paying the lease, getting temporary employment and waiting it out.
    Shrug

    • Class Action Lawsuit!!! Cal Trans is a public entity who has a legal obligation to notify the public and hold public meetings. No excuse for a decision which again the businesses and public are significantly impacted. The way this was done was absolutely reckless! Cal Trans cripled the economy of an entire city!!

    • There is an unwritten rule in the food industry…a restaurant will make it/or go under/ in the first year after opening. SAD

  • Rio dell regular

    Wow sounds like they need a better product to create a consistent draw to the busines if the town of scotia with a populatin of only 850 (if that many) is going to destroy what they have built then the busness was never going to succeed. As for Johnson saying it takes 10 minutes to get to Rio dell from scotia she must have completely lost her mind. My advise sell a better product, have realistic prices, open on sundays and close on a day that the commuters are gone (it has always just blown my mind that i have to drive to fortuna to eat on the weekend.) train your staff to be more efficiet there is no need fo a permanent order taker and a permanent coffee maker one well traind assosiate can to both. (save on wages.) Use advertising Morse apparently figured out how to use the media for free advertising so im sure at least one of the 4 coffee shops will still be here in 6 months… were not snow flakes people you wont melt, you may just need to work harder i know in this day and age none of you want to here that but its the facts

    • Dorothy didn’t say it takes ten minutes. She said it takes 10 minutes round trip–five there and five back. She also talked about customers from Stafford, Redcrest and other points south.

    • Food for thought

      Have you owned and opperated a business recently? Because I feel if you had you would have a more educated insight into their plight. With wages and cost going up and no relief being offered to small businesses and being such a small town you would realize that something like this could very obviously destroy a business due to disrupted freeway on off flow.
      Or you could just sit behind a computer and offer up snide comments. The choice is yours….

      • Rio Dell regular

        No I’m not a business owner I’m one of the consumers in rio dell. Maybe you should take the advice from you name on here and reflect (im assuming your one of the business owners) look at my comment and try to adapt to the situation and look at what the newly painted bridge is going to do for you. It will look better and our town needs that if we ever want to attract any one other than the ones who currently live here, we have the potential to be a tourest stop but we all have to work to a common goal and not just as I said before melt at the fists inconvenience

        • the misadventures of bunjee

          Why would I want to visit local businesses there if they’re out of biz in a year due to the bridge being closed? RD would just be another ghost town on a map not worth stopping in except maybe to get gas and keep rolling.

          Comments like this don’t make sense, not how Myles presents it anyway:
          “Cochrane said that having one-way controlled traffic through the bridge could extend the length of the paint job to two years. “That could waste taxpayer money,” he explained.”

          What else is a waste? No tax money being collected that can be wasted because it’s being spent somewhere else that has easy access. Can’t waste money that doesn’t exist. This is a project where I think fiscal efficiency needs to take a back seat. In large cities, a bridge closure is just an inconvenience. In rural areas, you might as well be severing a major artery.

          Keep one lane open and quit worrying about the couple extra bucks to get the project finished. Sales and property taxes keep those bridges open.

    • You might want to check the facts on what the Willits’ By Pass did to Willits’ businesses.

      • Rio dell regular

        Rio dell was bypassed in 1973 and devistated the town this bridge is just getting a new paint job for 6 months not for ever…… your comment is moot and mabey you should do your own reserch. Willits on the other hand is going through what we went through in 73 and it will not be good for the local business but again they will need to adapt and the strong will make it and the week will inevitably close. We need to make the town more asteticly pleasing so we get more of the upcoming tourists.. i think there are 100 different ways to do this other than the bridge but it is a point of interest due to its “historical” significants and it will make a diffrence for our small towns. Mabey soon they will pressure the land owners to clean up and fix the rest if wildwoods looks so we look less dilapidated . This town has come along ways in the last 10 years and we need to keep that ball rolling.

    • [Edit]are you to afraid to show your real name in fear of people going against you and knowing who you really are and look down upon you because I’m not. I’m from there it’s my mom and family that owns that restraunt and if you want to talk down to them then you can come have a discussion with me about it and until you own a business and know the facts about the ins and outs of it i don’t advise that you give advise about how a person should run one yourself.

      • Rio dell regular

        I dont see where any one is talking down to any business owner, and if your directing this at me thats unfortunate you dont understand what im saying. Im tossing ideas out that could help people during this time to stay afloat. Every business has somthing the can do as far as i know personally starting with scedules why is no one open on sundays? We are a commuter town and and the vast majority of people are in town and would love to have a burger at dj or the new place, some mexican at lettys (my personal favorite) why is it that it seems like at the green bean and shots that i order my drink and the window chick just stairs at me she should make it rater than have a coworker do it (seems like a time waist and a burdern on payroll) and the pizza factory is incredibly expensive when your not buying a “deal” how about taking down the sign thats reads “if you dont eat here we will starve” and just compete more with west sides prices the pf will win for sure there food is better but always way more expensive and they dont deliver. So again what im saying is the owners need to look at what they can do to improve. theres no stopping the cal trans the bridge needs to maintained. And why not use my name? Its the internet i never do

  • Let’s hope the landlords for those businesses are willing to work with them. It would be difficult to get new tenants with this prolonged traffic interruption impacting their survival.
    Hoping locals and employers will go out of their way to support them as well. Maybe allow some extra time for lunch hour?

  • Trillium Hummingbird

    Honestly, give it a few more days! In my opinion, the weather, the sudden closure, the extra minutes to travel: we call this a “period of adjustment”!

    People in Humboldt are so quick to engage! If your business will be successful, it will be successful!

    I thought the mill was closed! “Cannabis business park”… Now THAT sounds like something that will not be successful in the long run!

    Good luck all! Hang in there! In most businesses, there are ups and downs.

  • food for thought

    anyone remember the last time this bridge painting crew made news in this town? one year ago, on this last saturday. Seems everyone still alive got promotions! screw caltrans, their mismanagement, and them sending all the big city failure employees up here in the first place. why dont you ass hats go fix some magically never ending potholes!

    • Veteran's Friend

      Last Chance grade is another fine example of CALTRANS ineptitude. They have had 50 years MINIMUM to be planning a new route for the highway there. 101 will fall into the Pacific before they are finished “planning”.

    • Not sure who Cal Trans hired to paint the last time, but as a retired painting contractor, they totally screwed the pooch on that one! Aside from over spraying the side walks green, the paint started peeling off after a few years. Pay cheap, get cheap, I guess.

    • I have the answer, it’s a CalTrans workers WORST NIGHTMARE. Sell self-standing shovels!!! lol

  • We were in Rio the other day heading to Hobbies deli. Had to flip a b***h right on main.

  • Ain’t no way we were doubling back on the highway no matter how good their sour dough bread is. Really unfortunate for these businesses

  • If wasn’t a caltrans job, it would be done in a month, thanks caltrans and all other government agencies involved for turning this into 8 month project, I like how caltrans spokesperson acts like they are trying to save a dime and time,everyone just looking for a paycheck ,could careless about anything else,me,me,me, and we wonder why this world is so violent

  • If you like the Post Office, you’ll love Caltrans.

    • Lost Croat Outburst

      I love the Post Office. It ties us together even now with other services available. For a fraction of a dollar you can send a note almost anywhere on the world. People who don’t even have electricity or indoor plumbing can get regular mail at their “town” center as we see even now in rural Humboldt County. Even two or three days a week lets folks get medicine and other essential goods. The USPS is great. Good government is great. The bitter, hateful and vindictive folks running the Russo-Republican War against America are trying to destroy the USPS, of course. Vote ’em out, turn ’em OUT.

  • They should just take 2 years to complete it and keep one lane open. Tax payers will still pay the same amount regardless. It’s up to Caltrans to manage where to spend the money and how. They just made a huge fucking inconvenience for everyone and fucked business owners over big time. And if the stupid Rio Dell city council and manager would’ve been on board to allow recreational pot shops, business would be popping off! Put some signs up and bus loads of tourists would be in town for weedcand grub. The old Eel River spot for manufacturing won’t bring it shit compared to what shops would’ve. Rio Dell management and council should step down and just apologize at this point. What a complete irrational Boondoggle! Seriously!!! Can old conservative dumbasses just die already?

  • It is hard to believe Cal Trans didn’t notify the city that this project was in the works. Sounds like council and city manager dropped the ball on this one. The city should have notified the businesses and the Chamber of Commerce.

    • When I asked Caltrans if they had notified the City, this is the reply:

      The local economy is important to us and we appreciate input and opportunities that will help it. Caltrans will continue to prioritize clear and ever-improving communications with local municipalities, chambers of commerce, and businesses. Regarding this particular project, the Department will be actively seeking more opportunities to wrap things up earlier than expected if possible.

      • So….no. It sounds like they forgot to notify but won’t admit it. And blah blah blah

      • Sounds like the kind of answer our POTUS would give if asked “Have you had any affairs with anybody after your marriage to Melania, and is the $130,000 for silencing information about an affair?” 🙂 🙂

      • Caltrans had portable information signs on the freeway And in Scotia more than a month prior to the closure notifying anybody that was paying attention of the pending closure, I have to say I did not travel through Rio del prior to that but I would be willing to bet there was a sign on Main Street as well.

        • Caltrans said they put up signs on February 27–about 2 weeks before the full closure.

          • Maybe you don’t drive that road regularly? I do. Those trailer mounted flashing sign boards were up in January. It’s nothing new that Caltrans is confused the bridge painting department is right there in Rio Dell where the murder suicide took place.
            They may be referring to the wooden post construction signs those went up about two weeks prior to bridge closure, just an observation from a good Observer

  • Green Been had hardly any customers before the bridge closure.

    • Money Talks /Money Screams

      Green Bean is a newer business, Sally. If you have ever owned or operated a business you would know that it takes time to build up a clientele. Do you think this unforeseen problem will not affect the bottom line to all the local businesses. Looks like another Rio Dell communication break down and so sorry we dropped the ball.

      If the City Council and City Manager of Rio Dell could take their starry eyes $$$ off of the Pot Park for a few minutes, maybe they could deal with the concerns of their local residents and businesses. We continue to pay our taxes regardless of what is happening in our town!!! Follow the $MONEY$ as usual!

  • Man, what’s it take like 2 extra minutes to hit the freeway? Things could definitely be worse.

    • Veteran's friend

      But people traveling south from points north will now likely skip BOTH towns, rather than do all required to get to them. While before this debacle it was a through trip. Library, fuel at Shell, groceries at Hobies. Or groceries, fuel at Renner, laundry, library.
      Those were my south/north stops. Now I go to Fortuna, then back to Redcrest.

  • This sounds like a pileup of George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Pynchon right here.

  • The State knows best. Trust the State.

  • I opened the first coffee shop in Rio Dell to have a drive thru some years ago. We also offered donuts, pastries and lunch. We did really well from 7:00 am – 11:00 am. After that there was nothing for the rest of the day. We had a lot if tourist travailing the west coast. Many were going from Seattle to San Francisco or visa versa. I know my old business struggles to stay open and she is an established business. Dean Smithers couldn’t make a go of his coffee shop and miniature golf course. It amazed me that two more coffee shops were opening up. The business just isn’t here for that much competition. Of course the first few weeks are great because people are trying out the new businesses. I think someone didn’t do their home work. Most people who live in Rio Dell work out of town. They get on the freeway and go where they have been going all along. It’s just in their routine. We really did our home work before we opened up for business. We did our business plan and worked with a professional business consultant. At that time the mill had plans to open up mill tours. Well that didn’t happen so that business never came. We have never worked so hard for so little money. Luckily I was able to unload my business after a 18 months. I am thankful that business is still operating. If you build it does not mean they will come.

  • I’ve tried several of the new businesses. The Green Bean is awesome! They have great drinks & delicious food (that’s good for you!!). The Patron has amazing burgers & fries & we drive from Scotia to have dinner once a week there. DJs has always been a favorite of ours, and we will continue to give them our business. It takes a couple minutes to hit the freeway & take the next exit. I find it sad that people aren’t willing to take those extra couple minutes to keep their town alive.

    • Reading a positive comment like yours reminds me of how many tiny good acts go into making a good community. Thank you for brightening up my day.

    • Bridge On The River Eel

      I think most of the locals that patronize the businesses in Scotia or Rio Dell will adapt to the bridge closure, but some of the tourists that travel through here in the spring and summer will be confused by the detours. It’s hard to say how much income the local restaurants, stores, and other businesses will lose. Homes that are for sale in Scotia might bring some tourist up this way to check them out this summer. All the businesses rely on the summer months to boost their profits.

      I don’t know how often steel bridges need to be painted, but I don’t remember the bridge being shut down so long the last time it was painted.

  • Concerned citizen

    What about the affect to the emergency responders who provide mutual aide to each other?? Scotia and Rio Dells Fire Departments assist each other regularly … when you’re on the other end of an emergency.. “it’s just a couple minutes extra..” can seem like a life time when the other town has to come to your rescue.

    • Bridge On The River Eel closer to Caltrans is no big deal!

      Very good point! This is probably the most important reason to keep one lane open during 8 months of bridge painting. Scotia and the Rio Dell Fire departments pride themselves on being fast to respond to a fire or medical emergency, and they are rabbit quick! Adding additional time for response, because they have to drive the detour, could mean the difference between life and death.

      Is this extended bridge closure even legal with all the problems it will create? Why didn’t Caltrans take a survey and see how they would be affecting the citizens of these two neighboring towns. Especially when the closure could be as long as 2/3 of a year!

      Now that Caltrans has made up their mind to close the bridge to any kind of vehicle traffic for 8 months the Caltrans Public Information person above states, “The local economy is important to us and we appreciate input and opportunities that will help”. Input is suppose to happen before decisions are made!

  • Hoby’s Has Better Sandwiches

    I call BS on Morse doing any research before opening her shop. We now have four, FOUR, coffee shops in a town of 3,500. Also Rio Dell is a fairly poor town, not many people are interested in overpriced fresh pressed juice.
    I tried to eat at The Green Bean and the food was not good, and the girls in there don’t act or dress professionally. Everyone seems to have their head up their asses, the employees are sitting around feeding their kids free food while they scream and leave one person behind the counter to do all of the work. My sandwich was incredibly dry and they were out of half of the toppings I wanted. It’s onviously not well managed, and Morse’s attempt at a PR campaign from this is just sad. Make a better product, and manage your store properly. Also if you’re so worried about your bottom line, why don’t you work in your own store???

    • Why in the world would you write a comment like this… this has to be 100% the most negitive thing i have seen on this incredibly negitive feed… yes mabey the food wasnt up to par but its still a brand new shop give them time to get the menu down and train the brand new enployees… as far as customer service thats totaly nonexistent in this county unfortunately. As for the employees giving free food to there kids on the clock wile they were screeming i know 100% tawny would not tollarate that and you should have contacted her or the manager. When it comes to working in your own store your right i would expect the owner to be there but to bash her for not is rediculous who knows what she has going on in her life right now and she is PAYING somones wadge so the money is going back into our community…… dont be a jerk just becuse you can try to see form anothers point of view

      • Hoby’s Has Better Sandwiches

        I wrote this comment because it’s ridiculous to run a business or let a business run the way it is and then blame lack of traffic on a bridge being closed for a week. Tawny definitely does tolerate it because the person with the screaming kids was a ‘manager’. It shouldn’t take time to know not to serve stale bread and soggy tomatoes to people. I get good customer service at many other places, it’s not a geographical issue, Hobys makes great sandwiches and has good customer service. It’s just farther from my house. I’m only pointing out her not being there because she is saying she might not make it but hasn’t even tried working in her own shop yet.

        • Food for thought

          You sound like a disgruntled ex employee or the competition. [edit]

          • Hoby’s Has Better Sandwiches

            I’m neither, actually! Just someone who attempted to be a patron at this business and got quickly turned off. I know of her one disgruntled ex-employee, and bitch is nuts! Lol.

  • This project was planned to have a signal and allow traffic through in one lane. It was changed at 95% to a full closure by the highest levels of management.

    File a CPRA with Caltrans request to get the full story.

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