CARROLL — The before-and-after pictures of Route 33 at Carroll in Fairfield County show the contrast: rush-hour congestion and mile-plus backups before, and smoothly flowing traffic now.

The Ohio Department of Transportation project that cost about $44.5 million to transform the old intersection with traffic lights along Route 33 at Winchester Road and High Street into a modern interchange with nonstop through-traffic along the highway is nearly finished.

Department officials have scheduled a ribbon-cutting for next Monday    to mark the completion of the project. Construction began in early 2015.

Through-traffic on Route 33 has been moving free of traffic lights since shortly after construction began, and commuters couldn't be happier.

"It's awesome, especially on the way home," said Jesse Herring, who commutes from his home in Logan in Hocking County to his plumbing job at Ohio State University in Columbus. "I think they did a really good job. Especially on Fridays, that light would back up traffic for miles."

Friday evenings along eastbound Route 33 tended to be the worst because people driving south to the Hocking Hills for the weekend added to the backups at the traffic light.

"I think it's absolutely wonderful," said Rebecca Medinger, who commutes from Lancaster to her job as Pickerington parks and recreation director. "It has probably saved me 15 to 20 minutes on Friday evenings going home. Going through Carroll is way nicer now."

Backups sometimes stretched for 1 1/2 miles to 2 miles, and the intersection typically had 25 to 30 crashes annually, department officials said.

The interchange marks a significant improvement to safety and traffic flow along Route 33 in Fairfield County, said Sonja Simpson, who directs ODOT's regional office responsible for that stretch of the four-lane highway.

The department has gradually been converting Route 33 into a limited-access highway along the 12 miles between Hamilton Road in Franklin County and Carroll in Fairfield County. The changes are intended to make the highway into an interstate look-alike, with interchanges, overpasses and on/off ramps. The larger makeover of Route 33 southeast of Carroll includes the Lancaster bypass, which opened in 2005, and the Nelsonville bypass in 2013. 

Eventually, department officials may do something about the traffic light on Route 33 at Pickerington Road. There are no current plans, however, to remove the light at the intersection or to build an interchange there or nearby at Route 33 and Allen Road, Simpson said.

About 48,000 vehicles use Route 33 each day between Carroll and Gender Road. The closer to Columbus, the worse the congestion: Route 33 at I-270 averages 65,000 vehicles a day, according to the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

The new bridge overpass across Route 33 will bear lettering announcing that it's in Carroll. The village government in the community of 524 residents will pick up the cost, estimated at less than $10,000, Mayor Tammy Drobina said.