I-75/I-16 interchange project pushed back to 2018

The timetable for Macon’s new interchange at Interstates 75 and 16 has been pushed back, with construction now slated to begin in 2018.

The project’s price tag has gone up as well, topping $320 million, Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Gena Evans said Wednesday.

The start date isn’t final, but 2018 is the recommendation from the state’s chief engineer, and that recommendation was made within the last month, Evans said.

“We’ve got a lot more work to do on our final date,” she said, including discussions with local officials.

The construction start date has always been something of a moving target, given the lengthy design and federal approval process for such a major undertaking. But as of this time last year, construction was slated to begin in 2012. Costs at that time were unofficially expected to top $300 million, but now the DOT has a more official estimate.

Since then, the department has talked about splitting the project into phases because of its cost and because there is a multi-billion-dollar shortfall between the money the DOT expects to have in coming years and the cost of projects it wants to complete.

Non-construction work, such as design work, federal reviews and acquiring land for the new interchange, will continue despite the project’s delay, Evans said.

“At some point in time, (the project) will come,” she said.

Because the interchange is considered one of the state’s most dangerous, the delay is “unfortunate,” Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce President Chip Cherry said.

“It’s also understandable given the current level of funding that’s available to the state,” Cherry said, expressing hope that the timetable still can be moved up.

The chamber has supported the project, as have Macon Mayor Robert Reichert and other local elected officials.

Other groups, including the recently formed Citizens Coalition for Common Sense Interstates, have opposed the new interchange as it’s currently designed.

Coalition Chairman James Webb said the new timetable should give the DOT time to do a more thorough study on the project’s environmental impact and take a “more comprehensive regional approach” to the plan.

“Good for Macon, I would think,” he said. “Good for the whole area.”

Macon City Councilman Rick Hutto, who has argued for years that the new design is too large, said the DOT should make some long-requested temporary improvements in the meantime, including better lighting and signs.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.