Beaver County motorists are relieved.
No, the source of solace for many isn't the promise of Thanksgiving turkey or Black Friday savings -- it's the reopening of the Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge.
"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 last Thursday's reopening.
Juxtaposed against a gray, leafless hillside, the faded teal peaks of the bridge rise over the Ohio River. Repairs to the connector of Routes 65 and 51 began in December 2011.
Then in March, the bridge closed, detouring motorists over the East Rochester-Monaca or Sewickley bridges -- and causing eight months of headaches and financial hardships for business-owners and motorists alike.
"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 $16.6 million rehabilitation 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.
She speculated the lagging economy and closed bridge both contributed.
"Gas is more expensive, and customers aren't willing to take the extra trip" through Rochester or Sewickely, said Ms. Guerrieri, whose family has always lived in Beaver County.
For specialty services such as wedding invitations, customers planned trips into Ambridge around traffic, she said, but not for over-the-counter products like party supplies. Some days she wouldn't have any retail customers, which was "out of the ordinary."
Now that the bridge has reopened, she said, her business hasn't completely picked up again but the town feels more alive.
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 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 Corp. of Pittsburgh is the project's prime contractor.Transportation - neigh_west
Lexi Belculfine: email@example.com or 412-263-1316. Twitter: @LexiBelc.