“I was hoping the bridge would be open,” Robert Haehnle said. “I didn’t think I’d be the first car.”
But Haehnle happened to time it just right. He was the first motorist to cross the new Lititz Pike bridge — officially, the Thaddeus Stevens Bridge — when PennDOT opened it to southbound traffic about noon Wednesday.
Haehnle, a retired civil and environmental engineer who lives with his wife in Brethren Village, said he was on his way to Water Street Mission to have lunch with a man he mentors there.
He goes into Lancaster fairly regularly, so the construction has been a bother, he said. The congestion led to his being hit in a fender-bender about a month and a half ago.
Now that the bridge is open, “It’s going to be very convenient,” he said.
Work crews spent Wednesday morning putting last-minute touches on the southbound approach to the bridge near the intersection of Lititz Pike with Keller and Marshall avenues.
Northbound traffic moved onto the bridge about 5:15 p.m., after more resetting of barriers, painting of lines and adjusting of signals.
The new bridge connects Lititz Pike directly with North Duke Street. McGovern Avenue is becoming two-way between North Duke and North Queen streets, allowing allow better access to the Lancaster Amtrak station.
The construction replacement project now moves into its final phase. But there’s still a lot to do before it wraps up.
First and foremost, the turnoff from Lititz Pike to Marshall Avenue was closed Wednesday and will remain so for several months. That will allow crews to do more work at the intersection.
PennDOT has established official detours for vehicles to reach Marshall Avenue until the intersection reopens. Unfortunately, they’re long and roundabout, because tractor-trailers have to be able to use them.
The good news: Regular vehicles can use other local roads to reach Marshall Avenue. If you know a good route, go ahead and use it, PennDOT spokesman Greg Penny said.
Plum Street, for example, “comes right up to the back of our parking lot,” said Chip Cargas, CEO of the software firm Cargas Systems, which is headquartered at 1310 Marshall Ave. in the business park built on the former Lancaster Stockyards site.
Cargas said he doesn’t foresee the closed intersection causing headaches for his employees or visitors.
Cargas said he and other business owners have been kept fully abreast of the project via regular emails from Randy Patterson, city director of economic and neighborhood revitalization, he said.
“It’s just part of making progress,” Cargas said. “Temporary inconvenience, permanent improvement.”
Things may be a bit tougher for a consumer-focused business such as the Stockyard Inn, which is adjacent to the closed intersection.
“The worst is yet to come for us,” owner Jim Fournaris told the Intelligencer Journal/New Era last summer, when Marshall Avenue was still open.
The inn was closed for a vacation from July 2 until today, so Fournaris could not be reached for an update.
For several businesses along Lititz Pike, the past year-plus has been difficult. Kim Nguyen, manager at the Onyx Salon at 1236 Lititz Pike, said the project has brought one frustration after another.
“It’s a mess,” she said. “How can we conduct business?”
Next door, Vy Banh, co-owner of Rice & Noodles Restaurant, said business dropped off when the project got under way, but recovered in the weeks that followed.
During construction, traffic patterns were confusing and it was dangerous for cars going northbound to turn left into her parking lot. Now there’s a turning lane, she said.
On Wednesday, once the bridge opened, she saw a big improvement in traffic conditions right away, she said.
“We’re super excited” about it, she said.
The Thaddeus Stevens Bridge is 176 feet long, and supported by six steel girders that were placed in November, said Michael Sisson, construction manager with Michael Baker Jr. Inc.
Local legislators announced this spring that the bridge would be named for the famous 19th-century abolitionist who called Lancaster home.
A plaque bearing Stevens’ name was installed on the bridge’s southwest pilaster, but was slightly damaged, Sisson said.
It was removed for repairs and will be reinstalled soon, he said.
The project began in March 2013 and is expected to wrap up in late October.
“We were hoping to get it done a little bit sooner,” but bad weather this winter pushed the schedule back a couple of weeks, Sisson said.
When complete, the bridge will be two lanes in both directions. The old bridge will be demolished.
The construction cost is $12.7 million, Sisson said. The total project cost of $26.6 million includes land acquisition and other ancillary expenses, he said.