The Liberty Street bridge over Business 40 reopened on July 15.

We’re getting there, one shovel-full and one bridge at a time. The work to complete the Business 40 overhaul is now past the halfway point, Pat Ivey, the division engineer for N.C. Department of Transportation in Forsyth County, told the Journal’s Wesley Young. It’s an encouraging and hopeful milestone.

“I could not be more pleased with the progress that has been made on the project,” Ivey said. “Assuming we have good weather for the rest of the year, I’m assuming it will be open sooner rather than later.”

NCDOT projects the completion of the Business 40 project for as early as spring of 2020 — as long as the weather holds out. And not to build expectations too high, but NCDOT and its contractors have done such a great job thus far — investing in thoughtful preliminary work and motivated by incentives to work longer hours — that we won’t be surprised if the project exceeds even those high expectations.

That’s good news particularly for downtown merchants, whose businesses have been challenged by reduced access. Hang in there, friends.

After an impassioned plea she posted on Facebook last month, local restaurateur Mary Haglund, the founder of Mary’s Gourmet Diner on Trade Street, recently told her “Facebook family,” “I want to thank you so much for everyone who listened and watched and shared … it worked! … We’ve had a tremendous response, there’s definitely been an uptick in activity and business downtown. … I’m so grateful. Because the problem (getting) downtown isn’t really a problem at all, it’s just a perception. People think that it’s very difficult, but it’s truly not.”

It is less so now, especially with the opening, just over a week ago, of the Liberty Street bridge, providing one more avenue to connect the northern and southern sections of Winston-Salem. “We think it is going to help our business,” Erica Reece, one of the managers of Willow’s Bistro on the south side of Liberty Street, told the Journal’s Wesley Young. Reece said business slowed when the Liberty Street underpass closed late last year.

The new configuration has Liberty Street passing over Business 40 rather than under, as it did before. Some 15 years ago, the Liberty Street overpass regularly appeared at the top of the American Automobile Association’s list of the state’s 20 worst highway bridges.

But not now, and never again.

The latest bridge opening leaves only three road bridges to be completed: Bridges at Cherry and Marshall streets, and the new bridge to carry Business 40 over Brookstown Avenue. In addition, two pedestrian bridges, at Green Street and at the Strollway near Liberty Street, will improve access.

In the meantime, downtown is still a lively area. The Central Library’s associate director, Elizabeth Skinner, told the Journal editorial board in an email, “Our attendance numbers are strong this summer and for young children’s programming, attendance is probably up.” And it’s exciting to hear that 500 W. Fifth tower, the former GMAC Insurance Building across the street from the Journal offices, will be gaining two new significant tenants in the fall: Flywheel, a co-networking space provider, and Teall Capital Partners. They will join anchor tenant Flow Automotive Cos. and organizations like Winston Starts and CBRE Triad. The building and its tenants will contribute to the continued growth of our burgeoning downtown.

The Business 40 closing has been and will continue to be challenging. We’ll be happy when it’s all over and it reopens as Salem Parkway, a premiere gateway to the City of Arts and Innovation.

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