When Candace Jones started her job at the Walthall Oil store on Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard two years ago, she took Interstate 75 to work.
That was about the same time the state launched its massive $54 million overhaul of I-75 along Riverside Drive, tearing down and rebuilding bridges and pouring asphalt for new lanes and interchanges.
Jones has driven a new route to work lately.
I take Riverside, she said.
Two years into the work -- which includes widening the interstate to six lanes from Pierce Avenue to Arkwright Road -- the project is about 60 percent complete, the state Department of Transportation says. Its scheduled completion date is May 13, 2013.
Crews were at work at various locations this week, from one end of the project area to the other. At Arkwright Road, where southbound motorists already take a new, extended exit, work continued on the final stage of a new bridge over the road.
And at Pierce, paving progressed on a new northbound off-ramp, a lane of fresh asphalt elevated high above the existing through-traffic lanes.
That lane figures into the major impact that motorists -- especially those headed north -- can expect in the coming months as traffic is shifted into new and existing lanes while workers remove and rebuild more bridges and pave new traffic lanes, DOT spokeswoman Kimberly Larson said.
Motorists looking to exit at Pierce Avenue will be routed onto new construction on the east side of the interstate, a new lane 4 to 5 feet higher than traffic continuing north.
Temporary barrier walls will be used on the new construction section to prevent vehicles from going off the side, but it may startle some drivers at first when they see what is going on, Larson said in an e-mail. That configuration will last for several weeks,
Then will come some major lane shifts. All northbound traffic will be moved onto new construction, crossovers built and southbound traffic shifted into the existing northbound lanes.
This will allow workers to tear down and rebuild the southbound bridge over Pierce Avenue and remove an old utility bridge north of Pierce. That bridge will be replaced by a box culvert.
Once that work is completed, traffic will be placed back in the new (southbound) lanes, and work will then begin on removal and reconstruction of the old (northbound) lanes, Larson said.
A prominent feature of construction so far has been the more than mile-long noise barrier built east of the interstate. The wall stretches from just above Pierce to beyond the new Red Oak Drive overpass. At one point, the wall rises on a hill high above the interstate, a towering testament to the amount of earth and trees moved to make way for the construction.
Work on that barrier is about 75 percent complete. Work on a noise barrier south of Pierce Avenue -- a concession for neighborhood residents -- has yet to begin.
Larson provided updates on some of the projects other major features, including:
Ramp work at Arkwright Road is about 70 percent complete. Ramp work at Pierce Avenue is about 40 percent finished.
Work is under way on both outside portions of the new bridges over Sabbath Creek.
About two-thirds of the work on the new bridge over Pierce Avenue remains to be done.
The mechanically stabilized earth wall on I-75 northbound is essentially complete.
Larson said the Arkwright Road and Sabbath Creek bridges should be completed by Thanksgiving. The remainder of the new interstate bridge over Pierce Avenue will not be done until next spring due to the staging of traffic.
The project also included significant work on Riverside Drive, aside from some minor curb and gutter work, Larson said.
The new overpass bridges at Red Oak Drive and Riverview Road, which connect Riverside to neighborhoods across the interstate, are complete. Areas of Riverside have been widened to accommodate the new I-75 South on- and off-ramps at the traffic light at the Riverstreet Corners shopping center.
At the intersection, curbing for the new ramps has been poured. Surrounding connector roads have been updated with new curbing and gutters.
Despite the ongoing construction, traffic flowed smoothly through the project area during spot checks this week. Late last week, the only delay was for motorists getting back on I-75 South from Arkwright Road, where a flashing sign on the entrance ramp warned drivers: Be prepared to stop.
Despite the large scope of the project, Jones, the store clerk, said traffic delays have been surprisingly sparse. However, there have been some delays, especially on weekends, that might have hurt business for area merchants.
Sometimes when the interstate gets backed up, it stops business, she said. They go a different route -- and they go to a different store.
Prince Contracting, a Tampa, Fla.-based company, is the projects contractor.
To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.