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May 10, 2013 2:21 AM by Nathan O'Neal

Congress Street re-opens, drivers rejoice while some businesses fold

TUCSON - A major milestone for the modern streetcar project was completed on Thursday afternoon: a final segment of Congress Street was opened.

Closures along Congress began in April of last year, setting the stage for the rail system and other infrastructure. Project managers initially thought it would take between four and five months.

However, in the meantime businesses and visitors suffered through, hanging tight, to later reap the rewards.

When the striping went down on Thursday, Congress street finally opened up from Church through Granada.

For folks working downtown, like Zulayka Soto, it's well overdue.

"I feel happy, very happy," Soto said shortly after the street re-opened. "I think it's great. It's going to take 10-15 minutes off my commute in the morning so I can leave later.

As for downtown drivers, it helps put an end to what seemed like a year-long headache.

"Getting to work was sometimes an adventure because you never know from day to day what street is going to be open, what street was going to be closed," said Jean Morrill, who works downtown.

While construction isn't totally done, there will still be some traffic restrictions later on this summer. However the city promises to have at least one lane open at all times.

As for the open of the corridor on Congress, city construction workers acknowledge that the extended construction period has been tough.

"Businesses have been very patient with the work that we've been doing for the last year and this is a way to give them a reprieve," said Joe Chase, the construction project manager.

However, for some business owners downtown like Kevin Ketchum, the drawn out construction was too much to stay afloat.

"I basically cut my losses before I had to shut the doors and walk away with nothing," Ketchum said.

The limited access to businesses on Congress forced him to sell the Vaudeville, a club he had owned for more than a decade, before it ried up his savings.

"Just losing my business, we're talking between $100,000 and $200,000 in value of just the business alone, not to mention the revenue we generated every month.

As the flow of traffic takes the place of some heavy construction, some folks remain optimistic.

"It will be nice when everything is running smoothly. I hope people actually use the street car once it's in, since so much money has been spent," Morrill said.

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