It's a familiar sight this time of year, as cars and people pack the plazas on Route 12A in West Lebanon. Last-minute shoppers looking to take advantage of the box-store selection and New Hampshire's tax-free sales.
"I am picking up my layaway and picking up a last few things that I needed," says shopper Sarah Willis of Hartland.
"Bargain hunting. My kids and their kids are at home doing Christmas things. I'm here," says shopper Diane Joseph of Sunapee.
But his year, there's an added calm to the commute. What would usually be lines of backed up traffic and boiling blood pressures is smooth sailing this Christmas Eve.
"The changes now are much better traffic-wise. Absolutely. You can take the cutoff to get over to the other side without any lights, and people aren't all backed up," says Joseph. She compares it to what it was before: "Horrible. Worse than horrible. Yeah, it's a huge improvement."
The reconstruction project-- which has literally been a decade in the making-- has made several improvements.
It's added an exit lane to both off ramps, and dedicated a turn lane for those looking to head south on Interstate 89. The project rebuilt the bridge over 12A and -- as Joseph indicated-- created a new cutoff under the highway that that connects the KMART and Kohl's plazas-- without getting back on to 12A.
"It probably would have taken an hour to even think about getting in and out of here," says Willis.
For Willis, that means more time to shop. And for others, more time to spend with family -- like Larry Brown who is home on leave from the Army.
"It's a lot better," says Brown. "Last year when I was home on leave, especially during the construction, but prior to that the traffic was terrible. But, it has improved a lot now."
The $20 million project, which is on time and on budget, was paid for entirely through stimulus dollars. Which, officials from the Department of Transportation say, freed up other state money for 35 other construction projects across New Hampshire.