SALEM — Maybe they should call this the "Little Dig."
While it is nowhere near the scale or cost of the tunnel under Boston, the state's two-year, $7 million reconstruction of a one-mile section of Bridge Street (Route 1A) has had its share of finger-pointing, false starts and long delays.
Now that spring is here, roadwork has resumed, sidewalks are being laid, and a summer completion date is eyed.
"There is light at the end of the tunnel for Bridge Street," City Engineer Dave Knowlton said.
Although challenging for motorists and residents, the businesses along this stretch of Bridge Street from Veterans Memorial Bridge to the downtown have been hit especially hard. On more days than they care to count, the road has been under repair.
Somehow, though, most businesses survived.
"People are all hanging in there," said Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce.
As a boost, the city lowered land valuations on many businesses, resulting in small tax breaks.
Through it all, some businesspeople have even managed to retain a sense of humor.
"Do you think they're really going to finish it?" said Debbie Plante, owner of Once & Again, an antiques and collectibles shop at 45 Bridge St. "We can build the Brooklyn Bridge faster than we did this project."
Although utility work began late in 2009, road construction didn't start until March 2010. The general contractor, Newport Construction of New Hampshire, actually has until 2013 to finish, Knowlton said. So, technically, the project is ahead of schedule.
It's hard to assess blame for delays because there were a lot of obstacles along the way, from competing roadwork by National Grid and others to disputes over traffic lights and electrical boxes.
At one point, Ward 2 Councilor Mike Sosnowski complained loudly about a huge control box at the corner of Planters Street that he said looked like it came from the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey." The 7-foot-tall box, an electrical control for street lighting, was removed and is being replaced by a much smaller structure.
Over the next few months, the contractor has to finish sidewalks, install a few more period lights, plant trees and shrubs, and do a final paving and striping.
"They should be done, hopefully, by early July," Knowlton said.
There are long-range plans — not part of this project — to build a new park on the landing of the former Salem-Beverly bridge adjacent to The Black Lobster restaurant at Stromberg's Cove.
In the short term, businesses hope the city or state will erect a sign, "Welcome to Bridge Street Neck," at the junction of the old Salem Jail and the bypass road. There is also talk of a similar sign at the other end of the road near the base of the bridge.
As concerned as they were about traffic being diverted by the bypass road, and as frustrated as they were by problems along the way — some of which are still unresolved — most businesses are excited by the prospect of a new roadway.
"There's a lot of neighborhood pride here," said Rob Liani of Coffee Time Bake Shop, 96 Bridge St. "We feel that after the construction is done and especially after the park is built ... it's really going to give the neighborhood a revival."