A bottleneck that has caused headaches for East Lake Road motorists for months has been opened.
Call it a first-day-of-spring gift.
Nelson Construction Co. of Palm Harbor, the contractor widening East Lake Road, finished and opened a half-mile section Thursday _ more than three months ahead of schedule, according to the company.
The new, four-lane section begins at the traffic light at Tarpon Woods Boulevard/Sandy Point Road and proceeds a half-mile north.
East Lake Road already was four lanes south of that point. Traffic had to merge when the road narrowed at the two-lane section, creating massive traffic jams during rush hour.
On Thursday, motorists making their morning commute found the situation much improved.
"This section was not scheduled to be opened for four lanes until July," said Jeff Nelson, project manager for the East Lake Road work, "but we wanted to open it up early to relieve the congestion at the traffic light.
"There's always been congestion there because before construction there was only one lane each way on East Lake Road," Nelson said. "But when people see those construction barricades, psychologically, they think the construction is causing the delays."
The bad news is that the road narrows back down to two lanes after the new half-mile section. The effect, one driver said Thursday, is that the road's bottleneck has simply moved north.
"I think it's worse," said Lou Anetrella, manager of Fairway Pizza at East Lake Road and Sandy Point Road.
Instead of traffic backing up at the light near his business, it backs up near the Brooker Creek Shopping Center at Ridgemoor Boulevard.
"That's an even worse place to merge," Anetrella said.
Of course, one driver's nightmare may be another's paradise.
The new section is "a godsend," said Arnold Tyler, a resident of Anchorage, a housing development off Sandy Point Drive.
Tyler said the road construction included a new signal to turn into his subdivision.
"Now we've got the turn signal, the new road open. It's a new world," Tyler said.
Before, Tyler said, motorists heading north on East Lake Road in the afternoon and early evening faced a 20-minute wait to get through the light.
The rest of the 1.5-mile, $6-million project to widen East Lake Road north to Eagle Cove Boulevard should be opened to traffic in July or maybe even in June, Nelson said.
Another 2.9-mile, $11.2-million segment from Eagle Cove north to Keystone Road is scheduled for completion in February.
_ Times staff writer Amy Walsh contributed to this report.