The long-awaited reopening of the Kingshighway Bridge is finally upon us.
City officials opened the north-south corridor to vehicular traffic around noon Saturday. In honor of its re-opening, a ribbon cutting ceremony was held just before cars were free to drive on the bridge again.
“All in all, the city’s waited too long for this. We’ve all dealt with the traffic. Once the bridge opens up, it will impact everyone,” said 8th Ward Alderman Stephen Conway.
Conway represents people to the north and southwest of the bridge. Many of whom, he said, rely on it every day, but have been inconvenienced constantly by its prolonged closure.
“This has just become an ever compounding problem for the people of the city,” Conway said.
The $21-million project began in July 2015.
The city said the more than 75-year-old bridge was in desperate need of improvement and posed a safety risk to the public.
“Its rating was 5 out of 100. It really could have fallen down at any time. We’re lucky it didn’t,” Conway said.
The overhaul was originally slated to be completed around December 2016.
However, a number of unforeseen construction, environmental and utility issues arose and delayed the re-opening several times.
All the while, people and business owners in surrounding neighborhoods were plagued with constant detours, heavy traffic and fewer customers.
“It wasn’t a lot of fun for the first six or seven months, but you learn to get over it because there’s nothing you can do,” said Sam Burke.
Burke opened Cha Cha Chow on Shaw about a year ago, after the bridge had already closed for renovations.
That’s why it’s hard for him to say if he’s taken a financial hit. But he has a good feeling he’s still missing out on customers who would otherwise be driving through the area.
“About 40,000 to 50,000 cars used the bridge every day, so I know there’s traffic we’re missing out on,” he said.
At least one other restaurant, Three Flags Tavern on Vandeventer, closed in part because of the project.
Burke said all the side street detours were also problematic.
“Particularly on the south side of the bridge, here have been some small businesses hut, but there’s a lot of folks having trouble getting around Shaw and Vandeventer,” he explained.
But now, the bridge is slated to partially reopen on Saturday.
Conway said Mayor Lyda Krewson will be on hand to join other community leaders and project stakeholders for a ribbon cutting at 11 a.m.
He said people have the chance to walk over the bridge before cars can use it again about an hour later.
At first, only four lanes (two in either direction) will be available. The remaining two lanes will open later on this summer after the final touches are finished.
Conway said the new bridge has wider lanes, new sidewalks and an overall smoother, safer ride for drivers.
Burke, meantime, is looking forward to what all the traffic could mean for his bottom line.
“It won’t hurt, that’s for sure,” he said.