Federal stimulus money will be used to finish part of Fall Line Freeway

Construction on another stretch of the Fall Line Freeway will begin in the coming months as federal stimulus dollars are used to build a new $30 million road in Wilkinson County.

The project will complete one of the few unfinished sections of the long-planned four-lane route from Columbus to Augusta. It also will give Wilkinson County a chance to diversify an economy largely dependent on the declining kaolin industry and forestry.

Construction is slated to begin in September and will be handled by Tampa, Fla.-based Prince Contracting, which was awarded the project Wednesday by the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The route will leave Ga. 57 near the Twiggs-Wilkinson county line, head past Gordon and Ivey, then cross U.S. 441 as the freeway heads to Sandersville. About seven miles of new road and two new bridges will be built, according to the project description. Wilkinson County already has formed a partnership with Baldwin County to the north and is hoping to see big development where the highway will cross U.S. 441, a major north-south artery.

“That could be a mega-site in years to come, if we play our cards right,” Wilkinson County Commission Chairman Dennis Holder said.

Prince’s bid for the project came in just below $30 million, significantly below state DOT expectations. That’s been the case with most stimulus-funded transportation projects, as companies vie for work in a down economy. So far the DOT has awarded about $216 million in stimulus contracts, and there’s another $700 million plus to go, when department projects and other transportation jobs are factored in.

It’s hard to say how many jobs this project will create, DOT spokesman David Spear said, and an attempt to reach officials at Prince Construction on Wednesday was not successful.

Department of Transportation maps show just three sections of the Fall Line Freeway, initially planned to connect Columbus, Macon and Augusta with a continuous four-lane route, unfinished: This section in Wilkinson County, the next section through Baldwin and Washington counties and the short, but stalled, portion of the highway in Macon.

Land is being purchased for the section through Baldwin and Washington counties, according to the DOT map. The Macon section, which begins at the end of the Eisenhower Parkway bridge near downtown, is merely listed as being in “preliminary engineering.”

But controversy over that portion of the route has mired, and potentially killed, that section of the project. Various plans to extend Eisenhower Parkway and link into the Fall Line Freeway haven’t passed muster, generally because they would cross traditional Muscogee-Creek Indian property and because of environmental concerns in the swampy area.

Many people think the freeway will take a different route, potentially including Ga. 96 in Houston County, bypassing the extension project altogether.

To contact writer Travis Fain, call 744-4213.