After more than a month of congestion on the Jones Falls Expressway, officials announced Saturday that emergency repair work on Baltimore's busiest road was finished ahead of schedule and all lanes were open in time for the unofficial start of summer.
Lane closures had slowed commuter traffic to a crawl since mid-April as road crews worked to repair collapsed underground drainage pipes. The 50-year-old pipes created hazardous road conditions due to significant washout below the surface, officials said.
Scott Weaver, chief of the Baltimore Department of Transportation bridge engineering unit, said the project was a very high priority. The $2 million repairs were completed ahead of schedule because construction crews worked additional shifts at night when they were able to close more of the highway.
Also, officials had expected to conduct some manhole repairs that they later discovered were unnecessary, Weaver said.
"It's something we had to get done," Weaver said, adding that the transportation department coordinated with other city and state agencies to expedite the project. "We were impacting 120,000 cars a day."
With summer tourism gearing up, reopening the expressway was important not only for Baltimore residents but also for people visiting the city from out of town for baseball games and other attractions, Weaver said.
"It's a major artery that dumps straight into the middle of the city," he said.
Meagan Buster, a 24-year-old Park Heights resident, said she was relieved that the work was done, after experiencing weeks of traffic delays.
During the school year, she commutes to Towson University, where she studies geography and meteorology.
Buster also takes the expressway to locations in the city for happy hours and other social events — but lately, the traffic was enough to keep her from going downtown.
"Me and my friends just didn't bother trying," she said. "It just wasn't worth it."
Work was expected to take until early June, and the project finished about 11 days early, Weaver said.
"We are incredibly thankful for the expeditious work performed by the construction crews in order to get these emergency repairs completed," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "I commend the Department of Transportation for ensuring that the Jones Falls Expressway is safe for commuters and for opening the expressway as quickly as possible."
Department of Transportation Director Khalil Zaied said finishing the work in a timely fashion was imperative to commuters.
"The discovery of this safety hazard highlights the need for continued investment in our aging infrastructure," he said in a statement.
Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.