ELDERSBURG — The orange and white barrels are out of the middle of the road now, so you don't have to negotiate an obstacle course down Liberty Road.
After 18 months of shifting lanes, blocked driveways, noise, dust and sometimes total confusion, the reconstruction of Liberty Road is complete.
"For all intents and purposes, the construction is finished," said Robert L. Fisher, area engineer for construction for the State Highway Administration in Frederick. "We just have some punch list items to finish, minor things that need to be done."
Some of those itemsinclude work on the traffic signal at routes 26 and 32, manhole cover repairs, painting the fire hydrants and clearing away debris.
You can almost hear a collective sigh of relief from drivers who travelthe area regularly and from owners of businesses near the intersection.
While the business owners say they are glad the work is done, some are not entirely pleased with the result. Concrete barriers in the middle of both Liberty Road and Route 32 hinder customers from getting to their shops, they say.
"During construction, business wentdown about 50 percent," said John Gillette, owner of Liberty Discount Appliances Inc. "And now everybody complains about getting in and out. You have to go down and turn around if you're coming in from the east, or if you want to go west leaving the store."
While businessstill is way down, Gillette said, it is starting to pick up a little.
Across the street at the Crown station, owner Robert McGonigal is clearly angry at what he feels is "the stupidest thing I've ever seen. They say it's for the future, but what about us now?"
His business is down by a third or more, he said, forcing him to put a convenience store in his gas station to try to bring customers back. So far, he hasn't noticed any improvement.
The Exxon station has fared no better. Owner Tom DeBaugh said gas sales are down about 50 percent and service has declined 25 percent since construction began.
"It's real hard to get in and out of the station, especially trying to get onto Route 32," he said. "It'll take a couple of months to see whathappens."
Both gas station owners said that with business cut so deeply, they had to lay off several employees: two part-timers and one full-timer at Exxon and two full-timers at Crown.
Fisher said the median strips on routes 32 and 26 were installed to safely channel traffic through the intersection.
"That's what is being done all over the country," Fisher said. "The idea is to channel the traffic through the intersection safely, rather than having cars trying to buckthree lanes of oncoming traffic to cross the road."
Leon Holzman,owner of the Korner Karry-Out, an Eldersburg fixture for two generations, said while the construction hurt his business by dropping sales15 percent, he understood the rationale for putting in the barriers.
"The problem is that when people's driving patterns are changed for a long period of time, it's hard to get customers back," he said.
Employees at Meineke Discount Muffler said their work, rather thanthe amount of business, was disrupted during construction, and they're glad it's finished.
The project was completed last week -- two months behind schedule and $803,029 over its bid cost of $4,390,971, Fisher said. The final price tag was $5,194,000.
The work includedwidening 1.33 miles of Route 26 from the intersection of Old West Liberty Road to 1,000 feet east of Route 32.
That stretch now is dual lane, with an unbarricaded center-turn lane.
A quarter-mile of Route 32 was widened at the intersection to allow for two through lanes and right- and left-turn lanes on the southeast and northwest sidesof the road.
Ratrie, Robbins, Schweizer Inc. of Baltimore did theconstruction.