Construction crews and their mulch machine took care of some last-minute duties Thursday morning along Highway 49. They were eager to meet a noon deadline to re-open all lanes of the highway. After all, the crews knew businesses and drivers were anxious for the ten-month project to come to an end.
"They've had to sacrifice a lot while we were doing this construction and we wanted to get it open as soon as we could to help them out," Project Engineer Dave Steele said.
Then, close to 1:00, Dave Steele gave the cue over the radio. He told fellow workers, "We haven't had a car go through in probably 5 minutes. I think that's the last of them".
With the last barrels and barricades out of the way, the cars took their first ride across the newly-constructed highway. It was a moment many McHenry residents have waited a long time to see.
"I actually walked out and was actually talking to one of the workers and said, 'I want to see the first cars come over the hill,'" Bob Porter said.
"It's just easier to get back and forth to where I"m heading, to my girlfriend's house, to eat, whatever. I'm out here in the road everyday, so it's nice to see it open."
Restaurant Owner Greg Bunch said, "this is an exciting day for McHenry, as well as anyone traveling north or south on Highway 49".
Bunch says since the highway is open, he expects business at his Lloyd's Cafe to pick up. Bunch summed up what many others felt -- all the waiting was worth it.
"It's been a lot of hard work going on. We've had a lot of accidents during all this. But still, it's a good feeling to see it open up today."
The state transportation department will keep one northbound lane closed for about a week, to help drivers switch to the new lanes. During that time, crews will finish work on the crossovers and turn lanes along Highway 49. The project cost $12.3 million.