Stimulus cash to pay for Ocmulgee East Blvd. roadwork

Upgrades meant to ease shift change and truck traffic along Ocmulgee East Boulevard will be paid with federal stimulus dollars, and work should start on the long-planned project this fall, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The changes are expected to keep traffic from backing up along Ocmulgee East and Weaver Road, where Geico is located. New left turn lanes also will make it easier for truck traffic to get onto Interstate 16, DOT spokesman David Spear said. Weaver Road will be widened from two lanes to four, with a divided median, from Ocmulgee East to White Elk Springs Road, Spear said.

The work, in the heart of one of Bibb County’s job centers, “has been a high priority for a very long time,” Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce President Chip Cherry said. It should also help local officials market the former Brown & Williamson tobacco plant to potential new owners, he said.

“We’ve been showing that site a fair amount lately,” Cherry said. “It will redevelop into something, which will also add to that (traffic) demand.”

About $14.4 million has been set aside for the changes, a relative drop in the bucket for stimulus programs expected to top $1 billion in Georgia transportation projects alone. It will be one of only a few road stimulus projects in Bibb County, with the widening of Interstate 75 along Riverside Drive also expected to get major stimulus funding.

The work will run from Weaver Road, down Ocmulgee East and to the intersection with Joe Tamplin Industrial Boulevard, which is near the I-16 interchange. Two bridges crossing railroad tracks will also be widened, Bibb County Engineer Ken Sheets said.

The project has been planned since the late 1990s, and local sales tax dollars funded the design. But because of statewide funding problems, actual construction kept getting delayed, Sheets and Spear said. This was one of the few local road projects that qualified for federal stimulus dollars, because projects must be “shovel ready,” meaning the designs are complete and construction can begin.

Spear said the department probably will take bids from construction companies in August, meaning construction likely would start in October.

Though $14.4 million is set aside for the work, the cost could be considerably lower. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported recently that bids for stimulus projects are coming in much lower than expected, at least partly because of the economy and contractors’ desire to win projects.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.