Sam the Cat wore a look of contentment Monday afternoon, but it was probably nothing out of the ordinary.
For others, including those who own businesses in Shadyside and East Liberty, the mood was one of excitement and relief. The South Highland Avenue Bridge, a key link between the two neighborhoods, is about to reopen after nearly eight months of construction.
The sparkling new span will open after a Wednesday evening celebration that begins at 5 p.m., with a ribbon-cutting an hour later.
The old bridge was closed for demolition March 4. At the time, the city projected completion by Sept. 10, but bad weather and other factors, including complications from working above an active rail line, caused several postponements.
"It's been the hardest eight months I've been here," said Ginny Smiley, owner of Smiley's Pet Pad, a few steps from the bridge, as she cradled Sam. "I wouldn't be here today were it not for my loyal customer base that fought like heck to get here."
"It's going to be exciting for us to get back in our groove," said Brian Brick, owner of Timebomb, an urban men's clothing shop at the Shadyside end of the bridge.
He estimated that business fell by 25 percent. "There were certain times when we couldn't get anyone," he said. "But we're through it. As much of a hassle as it's been for the last eight months, look at it now. It's really cool."
The $2.9 million new span is in striking contrast to its dreary, decayed predecessor, which dated to 1925. The road surface has been widened, with accessible wide sidewalks on both sides and distinctive ornamental fencing. As a flourish, the old Pennsylvania Railroad logo is embossed in the concrete walls along with old railroad signs.
The project completely replaced the girders and deck but kept the stone abutments and center pier that were erected in 1875. The bridge spans Ellsworth Avenue, the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway and Norfolk Southern Railway tracks.
"It's really exciting that this connection between Shadyside and East Liberty is reopening," said Maggie Graham, communications coordinator for East Liberty Development Inc. "Business owners on both sides of the bridge and on Ellsworth Avenue have put up with a lot of construction the last several years."
Two Port Authority routes that have been detoured since the bridge closure, the 71B Highland Park and 75 Ellsworth, will resume regular service Thursday morning.
The contractor on the project was Trumbull Corp.