Good news for North Hills motorists who plan to drive across the Sewickley Bridge to and from Pittsburgh International Airport during the holiday season.
After eight months of headaches and financial hardships for business-owners and motorists alike, the Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge -- which was closed for a $16.6 million rehabilitation project -- has reopened for winter.
"We're happy and grateful it's finally here," said Sharon Guerrieri, a co-owner of R&S Enterprises Printing Inc. in Ambridge, speaking about the Nov. 15 bridge reopening.
Juxtaposed against a gray, leafless hillside, the faded teal peaks of the Ambridge-Aliquippa bridge rise over the Ohio River.
Repairs to the bridge began in December 2011. Then in March, the bridge closed, detouring motorists over the East Rochester-Monaca or Sewickley bridges.
The Sewickley Bridge was a main detour route during the closing of the Beaver County bridge, which connects Routes 65 and 51. Traffic in Moon and Sewickley frequently was backed up because of the detoured traffic.
Off-duty police operated signals and directed traffic during rush hours, but there still were delays.
"We will only have short-term lane closures as needed" through winter, said Jim Struzzi, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
Construction slows during the bitter cold winter months, he said, allowing motorists to shelve lengthy detours through Monaca, about 10 miles north, and Sewickley, about five miles south -- at least for now.
Come spring, the bridge will close again through November 2013, when the project is expected to be completed.
Ms. Guerrieri said she wishes the bridge didn't have to shut down again.
Without access to the bridge, Ambridge looks and feels different. Less than a week ago, at the end of 11th Street, blockades with blinking orange lights declared "Bridge Closed."
Tick Tock Cafe and Deli owner Manny Sephakis said his business was "affected tremendously" by the closure, and its toll has been worse than he anticipated.
"Thousands of cars drove by, right outside, everyday. With the bridge down, it's like a ghost town," he said.
For Ms. Guerrieri, the closure "impacted retail sales massively." Her family's shop, specializing in everything from screen-printing to wedding invitations, saw a 30 to 40 percent drop in sales at some points, she said, as fewer customers traveled Ambridge roads and trickled in and out of the Merchant Street store.
Calling the bridge a "vital corridor," Ambridge Manager Eric Kaunert said "I think it just goes to show how much the town needs the bridge."
According to PennDOT, completed updates to the structure, -- which normally serves about 12,500 motorists daily -- include:
• blasting and painting the substructure with primer
• all substructure steel repairs in spans two to six
• all gusset plate repairs
• removal and replacement of the bridge deck
• new parapets
• repairs to pier one
• new expansion dams
• concrete repairs on piers one and nine, and both abutments.
There is still about a year's worth of work to be done.
"The superstructure will be blasted and painted next season, along with new deck placement in spans seven to nine. The sidewalk will also be completed next season," Mr. Struzzi said.
Trumbull Corporation of Pittsburgh is the project's prime contractor.
Lexi Belculfine: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1316. Twitter: @LexiBelc.