By BRIAN SMITH
While it may seem like it’s been going on forever, work on the expansion of South Main Street continues and is actually in the final stages.
Work to expand from one lane to two the northbound, or east side, of the highway began in January 2012. The project runs from Interstate 20 to just north of College Park Drive.
Work was expected to take about 10 months on each side of the highway, but weather and details such as the number of driveways on the roadway’s east side slowed the project.
Construction on the southbound, or west, side of the highway began just after the first of the year once work on the northbound lanes was complete. With fewer driveways and obstacles than on the other side, work has been progressing faster in the project’s second phase, according to Director of Capital Transportation Projects Terry Hughes.
“We are still looking toward having two lanes open in each direction at about the first or second week in October,” Hughes said. “There will still be some work going on with medians which will require some temporary lane closures.”
Much of the recent work has been focused in the Bethel Road area to ready that road for future expansion. City officials created a turn lane from southbound Main Street onto Bethel last summer, which alleviated some of the backups. Work on the road was expected to take about a week, but contractors suggested doing some of the preliminary Bethel Road work now to avoid problems later.
“Of course as we started the work on Bethel, four days of rain hit us, which delayed us about a week,” Hughes said. “We figured instead of piddling with it and the road work taking two months, just to get it all done and take one month would be better.”
Hughes said work near Bethel Road will be completed in time for the start of school, probably the week of Aug. 19. In time, Hughes said, plans to widen Bethel Road down to I-20, have been discussed, but no dates have been set, Hughes said.
Not having that right turn lane has caused frequent backups past Park Street, as Hughes estimates one-third of the people heading south turn off at Bethel Road.
Regardless of the switchover, drivers and business owners say the project has been a mess and they will be glad when things are complete. Many drivers, like FedEx delivery driver Nick Ramirez, have said they deliberately try and avoid the area, even though there are alternative routes to reach a lot of the businesses by using a bit of creativity.
“I’ll just be glad when all this (expletive) is finished,” Ramirez, of Weatherford, said. “This slows me down, but I have gotten to know some areas better, so I can get around it.”
Drivers and nearby business owners have complained about the construction work since the start. Weatherford officials were hosting monthly meetings with business owners in the area to get their concerns, but Hughes said since the switch over those meetings have stopped.
“We’re still getting complaints at times, but most folks have been asking why we didn’t do this 20 years ago,” Hughes said.
Hughes, who has lived in town since his youth, insists the construction will be worth it upon its completion later this fall.
“With all the growth the area has had in recent years, it’s something that has become necessary,” Hughes said in a previous interview. “It’s been a long time in coming.”
Business owners say, in some cases, sales have dropped 40 percent to 50 percent since construction started and it’s hurting them right in the pocketbook. One business owner just off South Main Street, who declined to be identified, said if business doesn’t improve soon, he may be forced to close his doors.
“I’ve been told many times by customers that it’s just too difficult to reach us,” the owner said. “I can’t afford this.”
Brandon Hutchens, with Hutch’s Pie and Sandwich Shop on College Park Drive, said sales were down about 15 percent last year from two years ago, which absolutely “devastated” the business. Now that construction has moved over to the other side of the highway, things have begun to pick back up.
“It’s the summer, which is a slow time for us anyway,” Hutchens said. “I’ll just be glad when this construction will all be behind us.”
It’s unclear how many, if any, businesses closed due directly to the construction.
Hughes said that work on service roads between Bethel and South Bowie Drive is expected to begin in October. Bids for the project will be looked at in the next couple weeks, and work is expected to take about 18 months.