Highways chiefs fulfilled their promise to complete work on Squires Gate Bridge early when the key route re-opened to traffic last night.
It ended four months of road diversions for drivers with Queensway taking the bulk of the burden as commuters battled to travel between South Shore and St Annes.
Journeys had been made even more arduous because nearby Harrowside Bridge had also been shut since last summer before it re-opened seven weeks early on February 2.
Squires Gate had been due to be back in action on March 23, but the date was brought forward to this Friday before engineers gave the OK for barriers to be removed at 7pm yesterday.
Will Britain, head of highways at Blackpool Council, said: “The whole bridge deck at Squires Gate has been replaced.
“Before this, very fine pieces of concrete were falling onto the trains.
“We had to work extremely closely with Network Rail as it is their line but our bridge so there were very big health and safety issues.
“The bridge has been opened ahead of schedule, two weeks before Easter and we would like to thank residents and businesses for their patience and co-operation.
“Also thanks must go to the people of Blackpool for understanding it is a key route in and out of the town so it is important this route is open for years to come.”
Following its renewal, the bridge now has a lifespan of 120 years.
The £2.1m project, which began on November 7 at the end of last year’s Illuminations, has involved demolishing most of the old bridge where support beams had corroded.
They have been replaced by new beams to strengthen the structure, which had to be lifted into place using a 350 tonne crane.
Engineers have also built new kerbs, lighting columns and a new road surface.
The bridge walls have been altered to accommodate the new beams and a new improved drainage system is in place.
A reinforced concrete slab has also been fitted on top of the bridge beams to prolong the life of the bridge for years to come.
Mark Thom, senior project manager for North West-based Story Contracting which carried out the scheme, said it had been a difficult environment to work in.
He said: “Blackpool in the winter is not an ideal environment but we have met the challenge.
“We have had a lot of big crane lifts and managed to avoid the worst of the weather to complete the project two weeks ahead of schedule.”
Coun Gillian Campbell, deputy leader or Blackpool Council, said: “Once again, we have delivered on our promise to complete the next phase of the bridges improvement programme on time.
“The work that was carried out was essential and without it we would have risked losing a key route in South Shore. We are really pleased with the results of the project and are now able to provide a safer, better bridge for all.
“As always, we were determined to ensure the bridge was re-opened as soon as possible, and with Harrowside Bridge now also open, traffic congestion in the area should continue to ease.”
Businesses have welcomed the re-opening of the bridge.
Ruth Tatlow, of the WE5 Cafe on Squires Gate Lane, said: “The winter was the right time of year to close the bridge but it has affected all the businesses around here.
“So we are all pleased it is open again. One of the worst things was that when the bridge first closed all the street lights were off and we were left in darkness for about two months which really did make it look like we were all closed.
“Thankfully a lot of people were able to park on the other side and walk over to us.
“But I thought the sign-posting could have been better, and when Harrowside was shut as well it was difficult for people who are not from Blackpool to find their way round.”
Tiziano Ambrosini of Ambrosini’s Restaurant, also on Squires Gate Lane, added: “The closure has affected us because we lost trade on our take-away business. So it has been a hard time but we are very happy the bridge has re-opened.”
The bridge replacement is part of a programme to fix 10 of Blackpool’s bridges over a five year period at a total cost of £11.365m.
The money is made up by contributions from Blackpool Council, the Department for Transport’s Challenge Fund and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership’s Growth Fund.
Work will begin in June on the next bridge which is Devonshire Road Bridge where the railway runs over the road.
It is expected to take three months to complete but the road will not be fully closed, with traffic being controlled using a one-way system.
The first bridge repair at Princess Street was finished in spring 2016, and Crossley’s Bridge on Plymouth Road was completed last spring, following months of disruption.
Meanwhile, bosses admitted last week that further repairs would be needed at Harrowside bridge, which re-opened last week after more than six months, following complaints over the quality of the road surface.
The bridge was not one of the original 10 covered by the repair scheme but an underspend freed up cash for emergency repairs.