The wait is finally over. The brand new State Road 9B from Philips Highway to the Interstate 295 east beltway is now open, three years after construction began.
The northbound lanes opened at 10 a.m., and the southbound lanes will open later Thursday night after rush hour to repaint the traffic lines at the I-295 transition.
The new $75 million roadway will help alleviate traffic congestion for motorists traveling between Duval and St. Johns counties.
"It's slow moving, a lot of cars when we drive to and from work from St. Augustine, so 9B will help," said Steven Williamson.
"It will really help the backups," said Hannah Habashi, who drives U.S. 1 to school. "I have to leave around 7:20 in the morning. If I leave after that, it will take me more than about 30 minutes to get to the (Interstate) 95 interchange."
The road will open as a four-lane, limited access highway, similar to an interstate, with the ability to expand to six lanes in the future when traffic warrants it.
"The idea is to help commuters from Duval and St. Johns County have a shorter, less congested ride," said Laurie Sanderson, of the Florida Department of Transportation.
To prepare for the opening and completion of the project, nighttime lane closures between U.S. 1 and Baymeadows Road on both northbound and southbound I-295 east were scheduled Wednesday and Thursday from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. The specific lanes being closed will vary depending on the contractor's operations.
In the meantime, work continues on the second segment of State Road 9B from Philips Highway to I-95. This $95 million project is scheduled to open in summer 2016.
"That will also help commuter traffic, especially traffic on I-95," Sanderson said. "It will help ease congestion for commuters traveling 95 to the east side of Duval County."
A brief ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in the southbound lanes Thursday morning. State Sen. Audrey Gibson was on hand to ceremoniously open the new roadway.