Major construction on Forest Hill Road is over, but it will take another two years before the first phase is complete, the Georgia Department of Transportation said.
While road widening and other major improvements are complete, the final product isn’t scheduled to be finished until January 2019. That’s when the landscaping phase of the project will conclude.
Forest Hill Road is a primary route in the road system connecting Northside Drive with Vineville Avenue. The first phase of the project includes the widening of the two-mile stretch from Northside to Wimbish Road.
The project was designed to improve safety along the well-traveled north Macon road. It features the realignment of the Old Lundy/Lokchapee intersection and the addition of a “four-legged intersection” at the realignment of Newport Road, Forest Lake Drive South, Normandy Road and Glenn Hill Court.
Preliminary work on the project started in the summer of 2014 when crews began cutting pines and brush to make way for relocating utilities. The major construction was originally projected to conclude by July 2016, with an overall completion date with landscaping two years later.
A stretch of the road has been widened enough to accommodate a future turn lane. And once everything is complete, people driving along Forest Hill will notice an improved road, the DOT said.
“The residents will have a safe turning lane in the middle of the road while traveling on Forest Hill Rd, landscaping will be planted, new street lights installed and an improved drainage system will help direct water off the project,” DOT spokeswoman Kimberly Larson said in an email.
The remaining work includes some paving, installing guardrails and a traffic light and planting trees and grass. Also, sidewalks are now being graded, and work continues toward installing light poles.
“Key Curbing is on site daily pouring sidewalk and curb & gutter,” Larson said. “Later this month, Key Curbing is planning to pour driveways through-out the project. Paulk Landscape will continue to install irrigation system and planting trees through-out project.”
Issues, including problems with utility lines, pushed the completion timeline back. Contractor R.J. Haynie and Associates was fined more than $15,000 for not meeting deadlines, Larson said.
The project’s original cost was $8.4 million, but the final price tag will be higher because of DOT-approved cost overruns. The DOT did not provide details of those costs.
The latest delay was due to utility lines, which led to the department’s granting the contractor a 70-day extension. Last summer, the relocation of sewer lines caused another setback.
Forest Hill Road resident Anne Mullendore said she heard during meetings with state officials that some of the delays were due to utilities not properly being outlined in the design stage.
“All of this should have been identified long ago,” Mullendore said.
Back in October, a DOT official said he sympathized with Mullendore’s frustration that a later projected completion date of November 2016 would not be met. DOT area manager Kraig Collins said in an Oct. 27 letter that the contractor was anticipating most of the work being completed in late December.
“The department shares in your disappointment that this completion date will not be met,” Collins said in the letter. “It is the department’s goal to complete all projects on time, budget and scope. However, quite often there are unforeseen factors that can cause an adverse impact to one or all of these aspects.”
Well before construction started on Forest Hill, the project faced a series of delays, as some residents challenged some of the design features and even the need for the project.
There were negotiations between local leaders and the DOT before the project could start. And while a notice to start construction was issued in February 2013, a lawsuit also pushed the project’s timeline back.
Lindsay “Doc” Holliday’s lawsuit contended that a design other than the DOT’s was safer and that the project would pollute streams and damage the road’s tree canopy.
Holliday did not appeal a decision in the case by the November 2013 deadline.
The second phase calls for widening Forest Hill from Wimbish Road to Vineville Avenue. Some of the community input is being incorporated into the designs that will be sent to the DOT, Macon-Bibb County Engineer David Fortson said.
The designs are being put together by Stantec Consulting Inc.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to move forward with awarding the next phase of design to the engineer,” Fortson said. “That, of course, depends on the availability of money.”
Fortson said he has not yet seen the final concepts that will go before the DOT, but he is unaware of any significant changes. It also seems likely that a roundabout will be built at the intersection of Wimbish and Forest Hill roads instead of a traffic signal.
“Most people seem to favor the roundabout over the traffic signal,” he said.
The design includes signal upgrades and a turn lane at Forsyth Road and Ridge Avenue and a new traffic signal at Charter Boulevard. A center two-way left turn lane will also be added.
Plans call for Forest Hill Road to get new sidewalks that will include a 10-foot-wide multiuse path about twice the size of a standard sidewalk.
There could also be a slight realignment of Park Street near Forsyth Road to help prevent some of the blocking of the intersection with Forest Hill Road. Another proposal is to create a cul-de-sac along Drury Drive, which now has an awkward intersection with Ridge Avenue.
Information from the Telegraph archives was used in this report.