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Huge road project will improve access to airport, RAFB; create transportation hub

This aerial photo shows the Sardis Church Road extension eastbound over rail tracks and Houston Road in south Bibb near the Nichiha plant, left.
This aerial photo shows the Sardis Church Road extension eastbound over rail tracks and Houston Road in south Bibb near the Nichiha plant, left.

A massive road building project expected to have a major impact on transportation and economic development is moving forward in south Bibb County and is on target for completion in 2019.

The more than $55 million project, referred to as the Sardis Church Road extension, would provide a route from the Sardis Church Road interchange at Interstate 75 over to Ga. 247.

The 6.3-mile route includes construction of five bridges, a four-lane divided east-west connector with a median, 4-foot bike lanes as well as 5-foot sidewalks on both sides of the roadway, according to an email from Kimberly Larson, a communications officer with the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The total bid amount was $55,441,198, and work began April 24, 2015. The completion date is estimated for May 31, 2019.

It would have, in my opinion, an extraordinary impact on Middle Georgia as far as making us a transportation and logistics hub that would serve not only this Middle Georgia region but the entire state.

Mayor Robert Reichert

Contractor C.W. Matthews’ bridge crew has poured the decks on two bridges, and workers are now pouring the barrier wall, Larson said. A roadway crew is laying pipe near the Ga. 247 side of the project. Another contractor will be moving in during the beginning of 2017 to do culvert work on Avondale Mill Road.

“C.W. Matthews anticipates placing asphalt on the extension sometime in March 2017, weather cooperating,” she said.

Macon-Bibb Mayor Robert Reichert said he thinks the DOT conceived of the extension from I-75 “as another way to get traffic from I-75 to Robins Air Force Base without having to drive through the city of Warner Robins.”

The project will not only bring about more efficient traffic patterns, he said, but will have a major impact on another mode of transportation.

“We were very enthusiastic about it because it would make Middle Georgia Regional Airport easily accessible to I-75,” he said. “You don’t have to know your way to try to get from the airport to I-75 or from I-75 to the airport.”

Macon-Bibb County’s plans to lengthen the runway at the airport would not be hampered by the Sardis Church Road extension. The 6,500-foot runway now ends on a hill above Avondale Mill Road, which is part of the road extension.

Reichert said it has been determined that if the runway is lengthened, there “is more than enough room to put in a tunnel (on Avondale Mill Road) and still have about 10 feet of fill on top of the tunnel to get up to the top of the runway.”

The estimated cost of the tunnel and the runway extension is about $32 million.

The economic impact of the extension is expected to radiate outward even farther.

“It would have, in my opinion, an extraordinary impact on Middle Georgia as far as making us a transportation and logistics hub that would serve not only this Middle Georgia region but the entire state,” he said.

MORE COMING?

Reichert has even more ambitious plans and is working on getting the DOT to expand the reach of the Sardis Church Road extension with a second phase that would take it all the way to Interstate 16.

“If you continue in an easterly direction, across the river and 3 miles of wetlands, ... you could tie onto both the Cochran Short Route/U.S. 23 and tie onto I-16 at Sgoda Road,” he said. “That would link I-16 and I-75 and create this transportation and logistics hub around the Middle Georgia Regional Airport. It would be in south Bibb and north Houston county.

“It would give Robins Air Force Base east access to I-16 without having to go south all the way down to (Ga.) 96 and across. It would provide an additional crossing of the Ocmulgee River approximately halfway between the next publicly available crossing to the north, which is Coliseum Drive here in Macon and the next publicly available crossing on (Ga.) 96 down below Kathleen. So this would be about halfway between.”

While DOT officials questioned him about how much something like that would cost, Reichert reminded them that a former long-range plan — the Eisenhower Parkway extension — included a bridge across the Ocmulgee River before it was stopped because it ran into problems with the Traditional Cultural Property around the Ocmulgee National Monument.

So, to try to advance the plan, the Macon-Bibb County government has hired Moreland Altobelli Associates Inc. to do what is called a scoping study to determine if a second phase of the Sardis Church Road extension is feasible from a construction standpoint and if it’s financially feasible, Reichert said. So far, the estimate is about $62 million.

“The second half from (Ga.) 247 to I-16 is what we are pushing on now,” he said. “It is in our long-range plan now. ... It is in the 2040 time frame. ... So that cost estimate is included in the long-range transportation plan that we recently adopted at the (Macon Area Transportation Study) meeting in November.”

The DOT is considering improvements for a route that would make truck traffic to the Kia automotive plant in west Georgia from the port of Savannah easier. And that could tie into the current road project.

“If the road were improved from LaGrange to Macon, ... then you could literally come down on the Sardis Church Road connector and would be over and on I-16 and heading toward Savannah,” Reichert said. “So it would fit in beautifully with the proposed export/import highway.”

Pat Topping, senior vice president of the Macon Economic Development Commission, agreed that the Sardis Church Road extension would be a boon to the area and open it up as a regional transportation hub.

“Containers arriving in Savannah will be able to travel I-16, exit at Sgoda Road and empty into distribution centers in Middle Georgia, where they will be unloaded and mixed with freight from other containers for shipment throughout the country,” Topping said. “Containers can also be loaded onto rail cars for shipment and potentially even onto air cargo planes.”

Linda S. Morris: 478-744-4223, @MidGaBiz

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