In the beginning, she had her doubts.

Julee Baxley, who co-owns Integrity Automotive, worried the widening of Thornydale Road that began last November would take longer than it should and hurt her young business.

“In the beginning, like anybody, you have your doubts,” Baxley said this week.

But, she and her co-workers put the word out to customers that navigating the torn-up road wouldn’t be nearly as difficult as many of them had anticipated.

The Integrity Automotive crew even offered to pick up customers.

“It’s perception,” Baxley said.

There’s a certain number of people, who, when they hear about a major construction project, seek to avoid it all costs.

Yet, the worst never happened, Baxley said. “We never felt like it was out of control.”

Marana began the widening of Thornydale, from four to six lanes, last November.

Construction managers anticipated the $20-million project would take until spring 2009 to complete. They and town leaders worried it would hurt businesses on the busy commercial strip, and would force some to close their doors. The fact the economy had begun to sour in late 2007 perhaps only heightened their concerns.

But, with a Saturday, Nov. 22, “grand re-opening celebration,” the town and Thornydale businesses will mark the end of the roadwork, five months ahead of schedule.

The shindig also culminates a year of intense interaction between project managers and the businesses affected by the construction, which often limited access to various shopping centers and reduced the road to two lanes in either direction.

Granite Construction and URS, the construction management firm, hired consultants to help ease concerns for the more than 130 businesses along Thornydale, the linchpin of Marana’s major commercial area just east of Interstate 10, the so-called “golden triangle.”

Throughout the year, consultants held nearly 200 meetings with businesses. Town and construction officials held monthly question-and-answer sessions to make sure everyone affected was up to speed on the project’s status.

“We would have had a difficult time doing this project in a way that didn’t keep businesses adequately informed,” said town construction manager Kurt Schmidt. “We couldn’t have succeeded in the way we did.”

The end of the roadwork couldn’t come soon enough for Heather Blacksmith, who owns Cutters Point Coffee, a small shop near the northwest corner of Thornydale and Orange Grove roads.

“It’s been a very difficult year,” she said last Thursday, as she elbowed up to the shop’s coffee bar. “It’s had more of an impact on us than I imagined because we’re a convenience.”

Indeed, about 10 open storefronts dot the west side of Thornydale. The Weinerschnitzel has since closed. And the Big O Tires last week advertised a construction sale.

Throughout the work, news reports revealed that many businesses experienced sluggish sales, though it was unclear to what degree the construction coupled with a lagging economy affected commerce along the strip.

“It’s hard to separate out the effects of the economy and construction,” Schmidt said. “Certainly the construction affected businesses.”

For Blacksmith, whose shop opened two years ago right before the construction, it feels like she’s “starting over again.”

“We have such a great regular customer base,” Blacksmith said. “But they just couldn’t get in.”

She had a fairly busy morning last Thursday, however. And she had been busily getting out the word about her store’s “grand re-opening” that week.

Still it’s make-or-break for her in these next few months, she said.

Some work continues along Thornydale this week and will do so right up until the Nov. 22 re-opening. But, it’s largely cosmetic — landscaping, finishing touches.

An estimated 31,000 to 33,000 vehicles traversed the thoroughfare every day before construction began, according to town estimates.

With a newly widened road, and a completely re-built Orange Grove intersection, that number should only increase, Marana spokesman Rodney Campbell said.

Grand re-opening

To mark the completion of the project, town officials and area businesses will hold a re-opening celebration of sorts.

WHEN: 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 22

WHERE: Parking lot of the Northpointe Village Centre on the southwest corner of Thornydale Road and Horizon Hills Drive; displays and booths will be scattered throughout the commercial areas all day

DETAILS: Event will include giveaways, raffles and refreshments from more than 80 businesses located along the strip and in its shopping centers

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