Congestion along Interstate 75 between Macon and Henry County could be drastically reduced in the coming years with new lanes being built along the corridor.
The Georgia Department of Transportation estimates that traffic would decrease by 40 percent once the commercial vehicle lanes — the first of their kind in the United States — open by 2030. A discussion about current and future I-75 projects came up during a meeting Thursday that drew leaders from nine counties situated near the corridor.
Construction is underway on the $500-million-plus I-75 and I-16 widening project in Macon-Bibb County. And a portion of new express lanes opened in Henry County earlier this year as part of a $230 million project.
But the new commercial vehicle lanes will be only for trucks and other large vehicles transporting goods, said Joe Carpenter, Jr., with the Georgia Department of Transportation.
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Environmental studies on the 40-mile stretch of lanes that will be separated by a barrier will probably begin in the next couple of years. Preliminary cost estimates for the project are almost $2 billion.
Construction is targeted to begin in 2025, with the lanes opening for traffic in 2029. There will be slip ramps that allow those vehicles to get off at certain exits when needed. They would be the first commercial vehicle lanes in the nation, Carpenter said.
The two lanes would be northbound on I-75 from I-475 near Macon to McDonough, according to the DOT.
“It ought to reduce the delay on I-75 by 40 percent, and that’s significant,” he said. “When you look at those numbers, about a third of that traffic is made up of trucks. We provide separated lanes and pull them out of the general flow. Think how much that will enhance the flow on I-75 itself.”
Government and other leaders from the nine counties are looking to take a regional approach to economic development and how it ties into transportation improvements.
The plan is to officially form the I-75 South Corridor Coalition, comprised of members from the counties of Butts, Lamar, Bibb, Houston, Spalding, Pike, Henry, Monroe and Jones. That area is expected to have nearly 800,000 residents by 2025.
The region would need to add about 4,000 new jobs to decrease the overall unemployment rate from 5.6 percent to about 4.5 percent, said Greg George, the director of Economic Analysis at Middle Georgia State University.
The new Amazon Fulfillment Center that is coming to Macon could be one of the conduits for future development, he said.
Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert said Thursday was an opportunity to better market the corridor that runs from I-75 to I-475 and I-675.
“We can work smarter and rather than competing with one another, we coordinate and try to develop this entire region and achieve some of same growth and development that they have north of Atlanta,” he said.