$880 million would help remake Macon area roads, bridges

The I-75 and I-16 interchange near downtown Macon on Friday where future plans by the GDOT are on the board to make the junction safer.
The I-75 and I-16 interchange near downtown Macon on Friday where future plans by the GDOT are on the board to make the junction safer. bcabell@macon.com

In the next 20 years, many Macon roads and stretches of interstate could look radically different if nearly $900 million is poured into projects.

Interstate 16 and I-75 interchange improvements — which could soon have contracts approved for the first phase of work — highlight an updated list of dozens of projects in several Middle Georgia counties. Much of the roadwork aims at relieving congestion and improving safety around Macon-Bibb County and surrounding areas.

The most expensive project is the much-anticipated interstate interchange overhaul. From the “first shovel to ribbon cutting,” it’s estimated to cost more than $250 million. Once completed, it will make it safer traveling along the north and southbound lanes, said Mike Greenwald, planning director for the Macon-Bibb County Planning and Zoning Commission.

The first phase of the interstate improvements involves widening I-16 from I-75 to Coliseum Drive from four to six lanes. The next two phases stretch from I-75 around Hardeman Avenue to the I-16 interchange, and reconstruction of the interchange.

There’s also $12 million budgeted for improvements to the Pleasant Hill neighborhood as part of the interstate interchange project. About two dozen homes, including “Little Richard” Penniman’s childhood residence, will be moved to new lots. The Georgia Department of Transportation also will pay for streetscape upgrades, build new parks and remodel some homes.

There will be some headaches while the interstate construction is going on, but the finished product will be worth it, Macon-Bibb County spokesman Chris Floore said.

“We’re very excited. From the mitigation of Pleasant Hill to the interchange improvements, ... it’s moving forward beyond the engineering” designs, he said. “We’re going to see contracts (awarded) soon on the first phase of I-75.”

Much of the construction on the list of 53 projects would take place in Bibb County while Jones, Monroe and Crawford counties would also have some work. Changes were made recently by the Macon Area Transportation Study Policy Committee on the list that prioritizes the estimated $882 million in projects through 2040.

The funding will come from a combination of federal, state and local governments.

The Georgia Department of Transportation will review the updated list to make sure there aren’t any significant issues. The DOT projects are part of the Long Range Transportation Plan for the Macon metropolitan area.

“They will mostly leave it up to us as far as prioritization,” said Greenwald, a Metropolitan Planning Organization technical coordinator. “The big thing is making sure we’re fiscally in balance, and we are.”

Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert is elated about the updated list, as it features many roads and bridge repairs advocated by past and current officials, Floore said.

“They’ve been talking about these projects for years,” he said. “To see them put some of our major local projects into the top 15 is huge for us.”

One project that moved up a few spots is a planned bridge along Seventh and Walnut streets. The bridge would offer trucks a new route to get to Eisenhower Parkway and avoid traveling through downtown and the museum district along Martin Luther King Boulevard and Broadway, Floore said.

Once finished, the new route would allow the county to examine implementing traffic calming measures along the street, Floore said.

“It will allow us to make a more walkable, pedestrian friendly, slower traffic road through downtown,” he said.

Outside of Macon-Bibb, the largest Jones County project would be widening a stretch of Henderson Road to four lanes. The project has an early estimated cost of $37 million.

Tunnel, Bass Road, bike lanes

Highlights of the plan include several of Macon’s major thoroughfares. The first project is the widening of Jeffersonville Road from two to four lanes and replacement of Walnut Creek Bridge.

Other major road work would be construction of a $6 million overpass and tunnel around Sardis Church Road as part of the Middle Georgia Regional Airport runway extension. Other projects include Eisenhower Parkway safety improvements from Bloomfield Drive to C Street as well as pedestrian improvements and new bicycle lanes along a stretch of Pierce Avenue.

“People will be very happy to see Jeffersonville Road, bicycle and pedestrian (improvements) on Pierce Avenue,” Floore said.

Another major project is a two-phase Bass Road widening, proposed to be finished by at least 2030. The first phase would be from Bowman Road to New Forsyth Road and cost about $24 million, according to the long range plan.

The north Bibb County road has become busier in recent years as more developments have been built and new businesses opened. But one business owner is wary of how the Bass Road changes could affect the community.

“After seeing what’s happened to Forest Hill (Road), I would hate to see the same situation on a beautiful road like Bass Road,” said Natalia Del Basso Orsini, owner of Natalia’s restaurant off North Macon Street. “I don’t think it’s necessary to make another lane or double lane. Maybe 20 years from now, I don’t know, but at this point I worry about the beauty of the city. Sometimes it takes a long time for a street to come back to its original beauty.”

Stanley Dunlap: 478-744-4623, @stan_telegraph