This summer, the Georgia Department of Transportation will launch an ambitious, three-year renovation of the stretch of Interstate 75 from Pierce Avenue to Arkwright Road.
The project will include widening the interstate to six lanes, rebuilding several bridges and replacing and moving the southbound entrance and exit ramps near Pierce Avenue.
Riverside Drive also will be affected. Plans call for the heavily traveled thoroughfare to be widened to seven lanes at the new on- and off-ramps.
“The purpose of this interchange reconstruction project is to reduce congestion and facilitate easier flow of traffic by improving interstate and surface street connectivity,” DOT spokeswoman Crystal Paulk-Buchanon said.
DOT officials declined to put a price tag on the project to avoid influencing bids. Work is expected to begin sometime this summer and continue for about 36 months.
“That’s subject to change, based on the contract,” Paulk-Buchanon said.
Some of the major work is:
• Rebuilding and widening the I-75 bridge over Pierce Avenue. A new North Pierce Avenue will be constructed, shifting the street slightly north because of its proximity to the bridge. No homes will be affected. Also, the I-75 North off-ramp at Pierce will be adjusted to give motorists more distance to ease into the looping exit.
• Rebuilding and widening the Riverview Road bridge over I-75. Traffic will be detoured to Red Oak Drive bridge.
• Removing an I-75 southbound on-ramp south of Pierce Avenue and a southbound exit north of Pierce. With no traffic light, the exit ramp has been a major headache for motorists, especially those trying to turn left across two lanes of traffic and a turn lane.
• Construction of new I-75 South exit and entrance ramps. The new exit lane will begin near Riverview Road and end at Riverside Drive, across from the Riverside Plaza (Riverstreet Corners shopping center). The on-ramp will begin on Riverside, also across from the shopping center, and extend near Pierce, where traffic will merge onto the interstate.
• Widening Riverside Drive in the area of the new on- and off-ramps. Dual left-turn lanes and right-turn lanes will be installed to direct traffic onto the new ramps and into the shopping center.
• Installation of a raised, concrete island at the end of Lee Road at Riverside, near the new ramps, to prohibit left turns in and out of the road.
• Widening of I-75 to six lanes from south of Pierce Avenue to north of Arkwright Road. During construction, however, the interstate will be narrowed significantly as existing southbound lanes are removed to make way for the new entrance and exit ramps, and those lanes are shifted into the current northbound lanes. I-75 North will be widened on its shoulders to four lanes to accommodate the southbound lanes, and a temporary retaining wall will separate the traffic.
• The bridge at Arkwright Road will be widened and lengthened with what the DOT calls some “minor reworking.”
The plan has drawn some public opposition: Residents on Lee Road have launched a Web site — saveleeroad.com — encouraging people to contact local, state and federal officials to protest the proposal’s restriction of left turns at Lee Road and Riverside Drive.
The change is more than an inconvenience, said H. Lee Johnson Jr., who lives and also operates an insurance agency on Lee Road.
“My concern is not only for my business but for the community back here,” Johnson said. “With this being a right-turn-only road, anybody coming from town will not be able to turn left to go home.
“My concern is also with emergency situations, with ambulances, fire trucks and police cars getting in there. ... If we could just get a traffic light, it would help tremendously, rather than having that island there.”
Lee Road is a mostly residential area, aside from a handful of businesses near its intersection with Riverside. The road is frequently used by motorists as a shortcut to and from Vineville Avenue, Johnson said.
According to the DOT, a project development team of state officials, a consultant, residents, business owners and representatives of local government and the CAUTION Macon citizens group determined that the Lee Road changes were the “best design.”
Lee Road is less than 200 feet from the proposed ramp intersection, where there will be dual left-turn lanes, said Paulk-Buchanon. To turn left, she said, drivers would have to cross a right-turn lane, two through-traffic lanes and two left-turn lanes, as well as have to merge into two lanes of traffic.
“This would be a very dangerous turning movement,” Paulk-Buchanon said.
Dan Fisher of CAUTION Macon served as a stakeholder at planning meetings, and he proposed an alternative to the DOT design. Fisher’s proposal would have put the new ramps at Northside Drive, farther north on Riverside, with the goal of relieving congestion at the Arkwright Road interchange and on Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard.
“It really is a clumsy area there,” said Fisher. “It’s very congested because there’s so much conflict you have there.”
By putting the new interchange at Northside, more motorists would use that street to cut over to Forest Hill Road, rather than use Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard, which is also a busy commercial area, Fisher said.
The DOT modeled the proposal and found that it would relieve traffic on Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard by 26 percent and, surprisingly, by 10 percent on Pierce Avenue, Fisher said.
“They gave it a look. They did model it out. I have to give them credit for that,” he said. “There has to be some room for common sense.”
The DOT considered several proposals, Paulk-Buchanon said. Estimates of traffic relief under the state’s chosen plan were unavailable late last week, she said.
At least one Riverside business, the Wendy’s restaurant between Lee Road and the shopping center, has been bought by the state and will close to make room for the ramp intersection. Paulk-Buchanon said she was not aware of any other businesses that would be bought or condemned.
Plans for the project are not likely to change. The project is in its final design stage, so the public comment period has ended, Paulk-Buchanon said.
Most of the work will be done from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. to cause as little traffic interruption as possible, the DOT said.
To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.