Completion of the five-laning of U.S. Highway 278 West to create what Mayor Don Green labels as a "new gateway" into Cullman, was voted the No. 6 top story of 2005 by The Cullman Times staff.

Merchants and businesses from U.S. Highway 31 to Interstate 65 were thrilled to see the widening project finally come to an end back in October after a year and a half of dust and gravel, detours and barricades, single-lane traffic and decreased sales.

In fact, within two weeks of the new and improved five-lane Highway 278 being opened to through traffic from U.S. Highway 31 to Interstate 65, merchants along the 1.8-mile route reported that not only was business back to normal, in many instances it's better than ever.

"It's fabulous. We've been patient throughout and finally that patience is being rewarded," said Robby Walker, owner of Domino's Pizza on Third Street Southwest. "The improvements that have been made have increased my property's value and visibility. Sales are above what they were before the project began in April 2004. It was uncomfortable while the work was underway, but we've come out the other side and life is good."

At the top of the list of improvements made to Highway 278 is the widening and five-laning of the highway from Third Street Southwest to I-65.

Garey Shedd, project supervisor for Reed Contracting Services of Union Grove, the general contractor for the $6.4 million project, said he's pleased with the way the project turned out."

"With the exception of a few delays, most of which were due to weather, the project went very well," Shedd said. "I'd just like to express my appreciation to everyone, especially the merchants, for their patience and understanding."

Mary Ellen Werner at Werner's Trading Post said she couldn't be happier with the results.

"It looks great," Werner said. "The people doing the work have been great to work with. They have done everything they could to make the whole process as painless as possible and looking back I can definitely say it has all been worth it. I know our customers appreciate it."

Eddy Hoenig, pharmacist at Hospital Discount Pharmacy, said he was pleasantly surprised by how quickly traffic in the area began to pick up once the highway was reopened.

"We know some folks avoided the area because of the construction, but now we're seeing those customers return and that's good news," Hoenig said. "I expect this area to really flourish now because of the improvements that have been made. We're excited about what the future holds."

Local developer and businessman Jerry Galin said you only have to see the improvements that have been made to know that this is destined to become the new gateway into Cullman.

"It is absolutely wonderful. All you have to do is drive through there. There is a freshness about the area to go along with the new appearance and now it's a matter of what we choose to do with it," Galin said. "Our city officials were smart enough to extend the downtown business district along 278. I'm looking forward to seeing future improvements be made to Main Avenue Southwest."

Providing additional infrastructure, convenience and services is the secret of success for any community and Cullman certainly has all of the ingredients, Galin said.

"The widening of Highway 278 West is a great thing for our city and especially this area of town, but it's time now to put this project behind us and move on to the next phase," Galin said. "We need to continue the momentum this project has generated and continue to improve our community. It really is an exciting time."

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