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Interstate 75/Riverside overhaul could start in fall

Work on the massive overhaul planned for Interstate 75 from Pierce Avenue to Arkwright Road is expected to be put out for bid next month, with work beginning in the fall, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The project includes widening 2.5 miles of the interstate to six lanes, rebuilding several bridges and replacing the southbound entrance and exit ramps near Pierce Avenue. Riverside Drive also will be affected, as plans call for the heavily traveled thoroughfare to be widened to seven lanes at the new on- and off-ramps.

DOT officials have been hesitant to put a price on the project before bids are taken. However, the work was included in a DOT list of summer construction projects expected to impact interstate motorists, with an estimated “contract amount” of $77.9 million.

The actual awarded bid could come in lower, DOT spokeswoman Crystal Paulk-Buchanan said.

“Everything we’ve been getting back has been lower than we expected it to be,” she said. “There are a lot of things that come into play when the contractor comes up with that bid.”

The construction is on a list of eligible projects for federal stimulus money, Paulk-Buchanan said.

“It’s pretty darn close to shovel-ready right now, barring anything coming up on the bidding.”

According to the DOT list of summer projects, the work is expected to be finished in fall 2011.

Many residents and local transportation officials — including Larry Walker, former vice chairman of the state transportation board — said the project caught them by surprise.

Susan Hanberry-Martin, who serves on the citizens advisory committee of the Macon Area Transportation Study, said she thinks the project was “put on the fast track” to qualify for stimulus funding. MATS is a group of elected and appointed local leaders who set road construction priorities for Macon, Bibb County and a portion of Jones County.

The I-75 project “wasn’t on any kind of action list,” Hanberry-Martin said.

She also expressed surprise when told the project could be put out for bid in August and work could begin in the fall.

“For the DOT, that’s a nanosecond,” Hanberry-Martin said. “They usually move at glacier pace.”

The project has met some public opposition. After a series of meetings organized by residents, the DOT held a public information open house in May and received 71 official comments about the work.

Residents were able to win some concessions, including additional noise barriers along the northbound lanes of the interstate. Paulk-Buchanan said the barriers were extended south of Pierce Avenue to capture some homes around Delano Drive.

“The people who live in that area were very pleased to see it,” Hanberry-Martin said. “Not that they were in agreement with the project, but they were happy with that concession.”

However, some Delano Drive residents are concerned that the road work will worsen flooding problems in the area.

“They’re already subject to flooding. That was exacerbated by I-75. It backs up in people’s yards,” Hanberry-Martin said.

Although the flooding is a “pre-existing condition,” the DOT plans to enlarge some drainage structures so as “not to add any additional drainage to the flood zone,” Paulk-Buchanan said.

H. Lee Johnson Jr., who lives and also has a business on Lee Road, started a Web site, www.saveleeroad.com, to oppose plans to put a raised concrete triangle at the intersection with Riverside Drive, which would have prohibited left turns in and out of Lee. The DOT removed the triangle, and plans now call for allowing left turns, though motorists will travel across multiple lanes of traffic to do so.

“That’s a safety issue they really need to address,” Hanberry-Martin said.

Johnson said residents had hoped to convince the DOT to move the proposed, new on- and off-ramps — which will join Riverside at the nearby Riverstreet Corners shopping center — to Lee Road.

“That’s a much more feasible way to do things,” he said. “We’ve got more traffic coming in and out of here at Lee Road than they do at the shopping center.”

Johnson said DOT officials have said that a traffic light at Lee Road remains an option if the current plan proves problematic. Residents also suggested adding some sort of access road from Lee to the shopping center, but Johnson says DOT officials said that would have to be a separate project.

Once work begins, the order of construction will be determined by the contractor, Paulk-Buchanan said. A layout of the project’s design is available for public view at the local DOT office at 4499 Riverside Drive, she said.

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.

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