Merchants on Petaluma's East Washington Street are getting an advance Christmas present with the early shutdown of construction along the busy corridor that has kept many drivers — and shoppers — away from the area.

The Christmas shopping season is often a make-or-break time for business owners who rely on end-of-year purchasing to turn a profit for the year.

Several construction projects have backed up the major east-west corridor for more than a year, including the completed Highway 101 interchange and work in front of the East Washington Place shopping center.

At the same time as those two projects were occurring, the city began a two-year water main replacement project on East Washington closer to downtown.

The result was crammed streets, long delays and confused drivers as signs warned of lane closures or delays.

The $1.4 million water main project involves removing two 75-year-old water pipes buried along the edges of East Washington and replacing them with one larger main. The work was separated into three phases.

Team Ghilotti has completed the testing of the new mains and has loaded the line with chlorine, the city announced last week. With that work, the company agreed to shut down construction until Jan. 6.

Workers have temporarily paved all open trenches, removed metal plates in the right-of-way and have temporarily paved the sidewalks at all meter locations to eliminate trip hazards. Crews worked late last week to clean up and winterize the site.

Changeable message boards along the route will now read "Happy holidays" instead of "Expect long delays."

In January, work will include lane closures on East Washington and the side streets, but to a lesser degree than the last few weeks.

(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or