I-16, I-75 need help, but interchange can wait, state report says

mstucka@macon.comSeptember 25, 2013 

More than $1 billion in road projects should be prioritized, including the widening of Interstates 75 and 16 near their interchange, a state study released Wednesday suggests.

The Connect Central Georgia report says work on the actual I-75/I-16 interchange shouldn’t be a top priority, because the costs would exceed the benefits about 11 times over. And the state report struck a blow to Macon Mayor Robert Reichert’s dreams of a new connector road over the Ocmulgee River south of the city, saying that road would cost several times what it’s worth.

The state Department of Transportation report studied ways to improve transportation in a corridor that includes Columbus, Macon and Augusta.

It recommends a number of upgrades for Middle Georgia. Among them are plenty of upgrades along Ga. 74, which ties in Macon and Interstate 16’s access to the port of Savannah with a Kia car factory in LaGrange. Passing lanes along much of that road should be a high priority and would cost relatively little -- about $40 million to upgrade more than 50 miles of roads, the report says.

Other state reports have recommended better roads between Macon and LaGrange. The Connect Central Georgia report, however, did not find much support to widen the entire corridor.

Local transportation officials were not available for comment or hadn’t seen the report Wednesday.

Separately, the report recommends turning Ga. 49 into a four-lane divided highway from the intersection of Ga. 18, outside Gray, to Felton Road near Milledgeville. That project would cost about $135.8 million. The report also recommends prioritizing an upgrade of Ga. 96 from near Interstate 75 toward Fort Valley, for $34.7 million.

The favored interstate sections near Macon are relatively inexpensive compared to the ones that would get put on a back burner. The report recommends the top priority for widening I-75 to six lanes between Pierce Avenue and I-16, at a cost of $41.4 million. It would cost another $5.97 million to build a six-lane section of I-16 from Ocmulgee Industrial Boulevard to the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Coliseum Drive.

However, the interchange of I-16 and I-75 itself would be placed in the second of three priority tiers. Though the project would cost an estimated $164.5 million to build, it would bring benefits worth just 9 percent of that amount.

The state is already buying rights-of-way for the project. Earlier portions of Connect Central Georgia found even a rebuilt interchange would be flooded with traffic over the next few decades.

Making it onto the lowest priority list was the Sardis Church/Sgoda Road connector, which would better tie south Bibb County and Robins Air Force Base to I-16. The state considered a two-lane version, but it ultimately studied a four-lane version, which has problems -- especially swampland. The road would have to cross endangered plant species, wetlands and about 2.5 miles of the Ocmulgee River and its floodplains.

One section of the proposed Sgoda Road connector would start near the intersection of Ga. 49, U.S. 41 and Houston Road, then reach more than 11 miles over the Ocmulgee River to to I-16’s Sgoda Road exit in Twiggs County. At $212.8 million to buy land and engineer the road, its benefits would be less than half the cost, the study says.

A second stretch, which would run from I-16 to Ga. 57 and the Fall Line Freeway, would travel about 11 miles and cost $131.6 million -- four times as much as the benefit it would bring.

The study also recommended that other proposals be given low priorities, including upgrades to Ga. 96 near Fort Valley; I-75 through northern Monroe County; sections of Ga. 44 in Jones and Putnam counties; part of Ga. 49 in Jones County; and sections of Ga. 18 in Twiggs County between I-16, U.S. 80, and Ga. 57.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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