Riverside Drive, I-75 road project still a concern for residents, merchants

Almost 40 people attended a second meeting Sunday afternoon of residents and business owners concerned about plans to widen Interstate 75 and parts of Riverside Drive from Pierce Avenue to Arkwright Road.

Lee Johnson, who has taken a lead in organizing the group, reported that he and Macon City Councilman Rick Hutto had met with Georgia Department of Transportation officials a week earlier to learn more about the project and voice local residents’ concerns.

Included in the planned project are the widening of I-75 to six lanes from south of Pierce Avenue to north of Arkwright Road, closing the existing southbound on and off ramps north and south of Pierce and replacing them with new ramps that will join Riverside Drive north of Pierce at the entrance to the Riverstreet Corners Shopping Center, and widening Riverside Drive at the new on and off ramps.

Also included in the plan as originally announced was limiting access to Lee Road, which exits into Riverside Drive just north of the planned new interstate access.

“As you have probably heard by now, the DOT has agreed to change its plan to have an island prohibiting left-hand turns out of and into Lee Road,” Johnson said. “And they have agreed to hold a public hearing where everyone can come to ask questions and express their concerns, but they say it will take 45 to 60 days to arrange and publicize the meeting.”

Johnson also reported that DOT officials had agreed to do new traffic studies to determine the amount of traffic in and out of Lee Road compared with traffic in and out of the shopping center.

“One of the original options when they began considering this was to have the off and on ramps tie into Riverside opposite Lee Road,” Johnson said. “We think that may be a better option, especially considering the lack of businesses now in the plaza. They said they would look at that again, but who knows what will happen?”

Johnson said DOT officials also said they would use the traffic study to see if a traffic light may be needed at Lee Road and Riverside, but for now he said they said they didn’t believe one was warranted.

It was also suggested Sunday that if the I-75 access and traffic light remain at the shopping center, then access into the shopping center should be provided from Lee Road and Burrus Road, which bracket the center, so that residents in the neighborhoods served by those roads can use the traffic light to enter Riverside and the interstate.

But those who attended Sunday’s hour-and-a half meeting at Riverside United Methodist Church said they have many more questions and concerns about the project that will impact their neighborhoods and businesses.

During the discussion, mostly led by Johnson, Vic Jones and Susan Martin, major concerns they still have deal with the increased noise from the interstate traffic, the need to limit access to the neighborhoods across the interstate from Riverside Drive during construction, and worries about flooding and storm water runoff in the area, which is near the Ocmulgee River and already subject to flooding.

“So far we haven’t received the full environmental assessment for this project, so we don’t know how it will affect flooding,” Martin said. “We need to be sure they have addressed those concerns. People who live in the neighborhoods along the interstate also need to request that DOT come and do sound studies in their yards. It appears some sound barriers may be part of their plan, but it isn’t clear they are guaranteed. If you don’t get them to commit to sound barriers before they do the highway work, they won’t come back and add them later, so that is very important to have that included in the plan when it begins.”

Several residents also expressed concerns about plans to rebuild and widen the Riverview Road bridge over I-75. It is one of only three ways residents living east of the interstate have to get back and forth to their neighborhoods, which are bordered on the other side by the river.

“We can make do with two access points while they do that work, but we need to be sure they don’t also close Pierce Avenue or the Red Oak Drive bridge at the same time,” said Forest Jackson, a resident. “That would be a safety issue, not just a convenience issue, especially in the event of a flood or an accident on the interstate or railroad involving hazardous material.”

Riverside Drive business owners Rock Patel, who owns a Shell station convenience store, and Niven Van, who owns the Pier 97 restaurant, said they have not been contacted by DOT officials about what impact the work may have on their businesses or whether they could lose property for widening of the road. They said they would like those concerns addressed before work begins.

And Jones said he believes the area residents should ask for other concessions, such as a sheriff’s department substation, in the area as part of an agreement to not oppose the construction.

The group plans to meet again April 23 to finalize a plan of action before the public hearing with the DOT.

To contact writer Chuck Thompson, call 923-6199, extension 235.