Forest Hill Road, an artery in Macon’s highway system that connects Northside Drive with Vineville Avenue, is in the midst of a widening project expected to be complete by July 2016.
No asphalt has been poured, but preliminary work on the long-delayed project is well underway and on schedule, said Ronnie Dykes, project manager for contractor R.J. Haynie & Associates of Lake City.
“Everything’s going fine,” he said.
Only the two-mile stretch from Northside Drive to Wimbish Road is included in this widening effort. Orange barrels line the road, and silt fences snake through front yards to mark the future width of the road. Within that perimeter most utilities have been moved, and stacks of concrete drainage culvert pipes await burial.
Workers are digging trenches for that pipe near the corner of Old Lundy Road and Lokchapee Drive. That intersection with Forest Hill Road is to be realigned.
Ten months ago, lane closures delayed traffic on the road while crews cut towering pines and brush in preparation for moving utilities. Now that’s over, but traffic is still heavy -- one of the justifications given for the widening project.
Jackson Killilea of Macon works at a house on Forest Hill Road. He’s driven on the road every day since November and said the traffic is often difficult. But he said that’s not necessarily because of construction.
“It’s about the same (as before work started),” Killilea said on a recent early afternoon. “It’s bad this time of day in general, trying to get in the driveway.”
Plans call for the two-lane winding road to gain a center turn lane and 5-foot sidewalks on both sides. In addition to the realignment of the Old Lundy/Lokchapee intersection, a “four-legged intersection” will be created with the realignment of Newport Road, Forest Lake Drive South, Normandy Road and Glenn Hill Court.
“The contractor has completed some drainage work but has been slow due to utilities still moving through the project,” Kimberly Larson, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said in an email.
Killilea said he doubted the added lane would do much for the congestion.
It’s “just one more lane for people to be in,” he said. Its benefits may not outweigh the cost to homeowners who are losing part of their yards to the project, Killilea said.
“If it didn’t really deal so much with people’s property, it could be effective,” he said. Perhaps a third of the front yard where Killilea stood was marked for construction use.
Meanwhile, four houses on the affected stretch have for-sale signs in their yards. All appear to be unoccupied, and some have been that way since well before road work began.
In talking with people who live on Forest Hill Road, Killilea said he hasn’t heard any major complaints about the ongoing work. In the past, some residents had openly opposed the project or expressed discontent with numerous details, such as how the needed right of way would change their properties. But once work began, some of that opposition changed to a desire to simply get it finished as soon as possible.
Some conflicts with residents cropped up early in construction, but now property owners and contractors are working well together to get the road widened on schedule, Dykes said.
“The neighbors have been very helpful on the job,” he said.
Plans for widening Forest Hill Road have been in the works for years and have involved complex negotiations among leaders with the state, Macon and Bibb County before city-county consolidation last year. When the work was put out for bids, Haynie & Associates won the contract with an $8.4 million bid.
A notice to proceed was originally issued in February 2013, and construction signs went up around that time. But those signs spent months draped in black plastic as a lawsuit opposing the project worked its way through the courts.
The lawsuit, filed by local resident Lindsay “Doc” Holliday, argued that the Georgia Department of Transportation’s design was more dangerous than one Holliday preferred. He also said it would destroy the road’s tree canopy and pollute its streams. But Holliday lost his case and, short of money, didn’t appeal by a November 2013 deadline.
After a recalculation of project costs which didn’t change the contract total, initial work began in early 2014.
Workers have run into some unexpected utility conflicts, but most of those were handled quickly, Dykes said. AT&T is behind schedule in moving its lines, but contractors have been able to work in other areas to compensate, he said. Those last lines should be moved by the end of February, Dykes said.
Preliminary work on the Old Lundy/Lokchapee realignment has been going on for several months, and crews are now digging a culvert extension, he said. The realignment should be complete by late March, and contractors will soon meet with state transportation officials to decide how they can shift traffic while the pavement is redone, Dykes said.
Meanwhile, Larson said, grading is nearly complete.
“In the next few weeks, the contractor will be placing the curb and gutter, sidewalk, paving and guardrail throughout the project,” she said.
In addition to the current work on Forest Hill Road, the half-mile stretch from Wimbish to Vineville Avenue is slated for eventual widening to four lanes. But that work, always planned to come later than the Wimbish-to-Northside section, is on hold indefinitely, officials said.
In early 2014 Jack Reed, the state Department of Transportation’s district planning and programming engineer, said the Wimbish-to-Vineville section had been taken off the immediate project list. It’s not scheduled for right of way funding until fiscal 2018, and construction funding in fiscal 2020.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.