Bell Road bridge opens in time for holidays

Surprise Mayor Sharon Wolcott greets members of Arizona Charter Academy's sixth-grade choir Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 in the parking lot of Surprise Marketplace in Surprise. (Independent Newsmedia/Jacob Stanek)
Surprise Mayor Sharon Wolcott greets members of Arizona Charter Academy’s sixth-grade choir Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 in the parking lot of Surprise Marketplace in Surprise. (Independent Newsmedia/Jacob Stanek)

In the end, it appears the only thing even slightly rough about opening day of the Bell Road overpass in Surprise Tuesday may have been sections of the new road itself.

In the end, the crucial point is that Surprise’s main thoroughfare is reopened days before the start of the holiday shopping rush on Black Friday – or in some cases Thanksgiving Day itself.

Surprise Police Sgt. Tim Klarkowski said that the major traffic change in the heart of the city went well. Officers were out in force during the day to re-educate drivers and making sure traffic flowed smoothly.

“Overall, it’s been a smooth transition,” Sgt. Klarkowski said Tuesday afternoon.

Sgt. Klarkowski thanked drivers for their patience during the more than seven months that Bell Road was completely closed from West Point Parkway and 134th Drive.

Meanwhile, Surprise Mayor Sharon Wolcott thanked residents for their patronage in the area — which has been the city’s commercial nerve center for more than a decade.

“To the customers that continued to shop these businesses, thank you for realizing they were always open and supporting them,” Mayor Wolcott said Tuesday.

There is no doubt that Surprise Towne Center and Surprise Marketplace — full of big box name brands and restaurants — were hurt since the closure began

During a call to the public at the Aug. 16 City Council Work Session, Denise Garcia of Clarion Partners spoke. She is the asset manager for both power centers.

Ms. Garcia said sales for big box stores had dropped between 8 and 20 percent from the same time frame in 2015. This was based on late summer figures. Updated numbers have not been announced.

There are some hopeful signs. Three businesses — Harbor Freight east of Grand, State 48 just west of Litchfield Road and Biscuits Cafe in the northern corner of Surprise Towne Center — opened after Bell was closed April 1.

Two more — Salad and Go and Firehouse Subs — will open in the Bell/Grand area before the end of the year.

“And to those that took a different commute during the closure, I invite you to comeback to this area. No more stopping for the train and three new businesses have opened since the closure began in April, with two others opening this year. Come check them out,” Mayor Wolcott said.

The complete closure of Bell was a product of talking with businesses. A conventional work schedule would have meant partial lane closures on Bell and Grand throughout the area’s two busiest retail periods — spring training and the holidays.

Work began on Grand Avenue Jan. 29 and the Bell bridge, the most challenging aspect, just made its deadline. The collapse of a girder June 9 delayed work on the bridge itself for nearly a month.

But by shifting other parts of the project around, it remained on schedule. In a new release Tuesday, the Arizona Department of Transportation stated the rest of the project, including completing ramps connecting Bell Road and Grand Avenue, is on track to finish before the start of spring training baseball begins in late February.

“Meeting the goal of reopening Bell Road in time for the holiday season started with the first day of planning and continued through this past weekend. There were challenges. But the project team, including contractors, stepped up to the plate and got the job done. It took cooperation and communication and that extends to partners like MAG and the city of Surprise,” ADOT spokesman Doug Nintzel said.

Remaining work also includes completing lanes that will carry eastbound Grand Avenue traffic. For now, both directions of traffic are sharing what will be the westbound lanes.

Sgt. Klarkowski said police, city and ADOT interaction with residents began at HOA meeting well before Bell shut down. All things considered, he said, drivers handled the entire time of detours and delays very well.

“The overwhelming response from the public was positive. Overall it was exactly what we look for in developing community partnerships.” he said.

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