Odette Miller’s hair salon sits near the Route 53 bridge over Route 3, and for years she had to consider the volume of backed-up traffic outside her door as she scheduled customer appointments and personal errands.
“Our driveway is first when you come off the overpass,’’ said Miller, owner of Creative Energy Hair Studio. “It was chaotic to get to work, or to get out.”
Traveling over the bridge with its never-ending construction activity and ever-changing network of Jersey barriers was like trying to navigate an obstacle course, she said: “Even the design of the signs was confusing and you had no idea where to go.”
But now that the bridge building project has wrapped up, Miller said she is a big fan: “It is so worth it now. It’s beautiful. And the traffic just keeps moving.”
It took eight years and almost $10 million, but the work to replace the bridge that crosses Route 3 at Exit 13, widen the intertown thoroughfare, and install traffic lights is finally complete. The project was plagued with delays and at one point had to be rethought when it became clear the old bridge was too far gone for repair and needed a total redo.
State Transportation Secretary Richard Davey was in town Nov. 2 with local and other state dignitaries to cut the ribbon on the new roadway.
“This has been a long time coming, and I appreciate the patience of all users, our customers,” said Davey, in a statement. “This bridge replacement project and the support here shows us that our roads and bridges do contribute to the economic vitality and quality of life in our communities.”
The project finished not a moment too soon, said Town Manager Troy Clarkson, and it will help boost the upcoming holiday shopping season at the Hanover Mall nearby.
For years, it had been difficult for motorists to come off Route 3 north and make a left onto Route 53 toward the mall that offers 75 stores and restaurants, Clarkson and mall manager Ed Callahan said.
Hanover’s selectmen have made economic development along Route 53, which runs from Quincy to Kingston, a priority, along with improving relations with the 42-year-old retail complex. And the bridge project was integral to both, they said.
“We have a great relationship with the mall and we are thrilled,’’ said Selectwoman Susan Setterland.
Clarkson characterized the bridge as both literally and figuratively a span to the commercial future of Hanover, and he lauded the leadership of Callahan, who most recently brought in a new Dick’s Sporting Goods store, and was also the catalyst to helping secure $100,000 from a former mall owner to help the town design and pay for turning signals into the shopping area.
Over time, the streamlined, wider bridge and road will help bring in new business and maybe even lure back shoppers who bailed when it became too difficult to get to the mall, now home to a wealth of specialty retailers from Squid Ink Tattoos to A.C. Moore, Aéropostale, and Bath & Body Works. Besides a handful of restaurants, the mall also hosts a Trader Joe’s and a 10-screen Patriot Cinema complex.
“People might, over the years, have avoided getting off at that exit, which most likely made them go somewhere else to shop,’’ said Callahan. “Now we have a big sign on Route 3 that says the bridge is open, widened, and signaled.’’
And, it’s much easier to take that left, he said: “From a business standpoint, we are ecstatic.”
So is Tom Norton, who owns Coastal Volkswagen, located at the base of the bridge.
The years of construction was “an inconvenience and a challenge,’’ Norton said, as well as a critical safety issue. “It was like running the gauntlet on that exit and people would just close their eyes and hit the gas.”
Norton said his business accommodates 30 to 40 customers a day in the service department, shoppers in the showroom, and a cadre of delivery vehicles coming in and out.
“You just had to plan ahead,’’ he said. “The hardest part was when you came in on the bridge from the north and if you ended up by chance in the wrong lane you were just dumped back out on Route 3.”
Davey has said the bridge project will be an important link in the potential widening of Route 3 down the road, but at the moment, there isn’t any money to consider it.
Yarns End, a little farther down Route 53, has only been open since June, but owner Alison Schirone said she had already gotten an earful of opinion about traffic and construction bottlenecks that had plagued the highway.
“Because of the nature of what we do, we have a lot of conversation,’’ said Schirone of the knitters who take classes or just stop in to work on their craft and chat. “People complained that it had gone on forever, and now there is a lot of relief that it is done.”