Business thrives on bad roads

| Friday, June 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

In Pennsylvania, times are good for those in the bad-roads business.

Back in 2005, Beth Nury noticed the roads and bridges she traveled on were in deplorable shape. The revelation hardly was unusual, but her response to it was. She took a detour from her career in the insurance industry to start her own business dealing with the details of detours.

“I took a risk. I wanted to prove that a woman could make it in the construction business,” said Nury, 42, of Hampton. “It's nonstop every day, but it's very satisfying to make work zones safer.”

In eight years, Beth's Barricades has grown from an enterprise operated out of a garage into a 10-acre West Deer campus with about 50 employees, a 10,000-square-foot warehouse and a 5,000-square-foot sign shop. A satellite office recently opened across the state in York.

Beth's Barricades isn't your father's detour business. When it's time to rip up a road, Nury and her workers don't just roll out the orange barrels. They're capable of automating a work zone with sensors, cameras, speed displays and message boards.

You probably never heard of the company, but if you're a Western Pennsylvania motorist, the odds are good you've seen its traffic control personnel and equipment in operation.

If you've had to navigate the local labyrinth of the Route 28 reconstruction, you're probably overly familiar with their detour and lane-change signs. Beth's Barricades also is responsible for rerouting thousands of irritated motorists on any given weekend one of the Squirrel Hill Tunnel portals is closed for rehabilitation.

From day one, Nury's silent partner in the business has been a consistently crumbling transportation infrastructure that necessitates plenty of traffic rerouting. The situation in Pennsylvania is dire enough that state lawmakers are mulling proposals that would provide as much as $2.5 billion annually to repair the thousands of miles of aging roads and more than 5,400 structurally deficient bridges.

What Nury smartly has done is akin to gradually expanding a roofing business in a hurricane-prone region as the clouds thicken, the mandatory evacuation order is signed and the FEMA folks prepare to flood in.

A potentially lucrative payday soon might befall Nury's company and competitors also delivering detours if a funding package is approved. But she said that's not the only reason why she believes it's a good idea for the state to make a multibillion-dollar investment in infrastructure improvements.

“This is how I make my living, but I look at transportation funding as an investment in the region,” Nury said. “From a safety standpoint, more new businesses are likely to come here if they know the roads and bridges are in good shape.”

Nury realizes motorists never will be fond of the instruments of her trade, but she hopes they realize they are there for a reason.

“I understand that people don't like just sitting there in traffic for 45 minutes. But we just put up the signs,” she said. “Please don't swear at my guys. We don't dig the holes. We just try to keep you from falling into them.”

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or

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