By BRIAN SMITH
The rejoicing has begun.
After more than 18 months of trials, tribulations and headaches for drivers and businesses alike, South Main Street reopened late last week from Bethel Road to Interstate 20. Traffic is now able to use four lanes across plus a turn lane just in time for the height of the Christmas shopping season.
Drivers seem to like the change. Weatherford resident Mitzi Bishop says she has lived here for 11 years and likes being able to go from one end of Main Street to the other without congestion or “nasty people.”
“It’s amazing that just over the last couple of days that it’s been open, everyone just seems to be in a much better mood around here, which is great,” Bishop said. “I’m sure some of it is the holiday spirit, but I like to think being able to cross town in under an hour is part of it too.”
Businesses, some of which suffered greatly with the construction, are still waiting for people to come back. Brandon Hutchens, of Hutch’s Sandwich and Pie Shop, says he hasn’t noticed much change, and that things continue to remain steady.
“It’s hard to get a feel for if there’s an increase because of the holidays, which are normally kind of slow for restaurants, and then we had the ice storm, which knocked everyone down,” Hutchens said. “It’s good to see (the street) finished, though.”
One business owner, who identified himself only as “Joe,” says while he’s glad the road is fixed and “very nice,” he wonders if all the work was really worth it in the long run.
“Because it took so long, people have already found new places to get gas or their hair cut or whatever. They’re not going to be coming back because they’re happy somewhere else,” the owner said. “It’s a shame and I understand about progress and all that, but I wonder if the end justifies the means.”
Firestone Assistant Manager James Dodd says business is up about 20 percent since the reopening. While that sounds good, Dodd says business is down about 40 percent from pre-construction levels.
Adding to Dodd’s frustration is the fact that he doesn’t have a left turn lane into his business, forcing potential customers to have to turn around.
“I really would have liked a turnaround,” Dodd said.
City Director of Capital Transportation Projects Terry Hughes, who has been in the city for 50 years, said there will still be some minor wrap up construction over the next several weeks which could slow things down temporarily.
Construction work on I-20 service roads between Bethel Road and Bowie Drive is expected to begin in January.