Local

Forest Hill Road residents ready for $8.4 million road project to be done

By STANLEY DUNLAP

sdunlap@macon.com

Forest Hill resident Anne Mullendore stands at the corner of the future Old Lundy Road and Lokchapee Drive intersection along Forest Hill Road September 2. Mullendore is upset with the progress along the road including the new intersection.
Forest Hill resident Anne Mullendore stands at the corner of the future Old Lundy Road and Lokchapee Drive intersection along Forest Hill Road September 2. Mullendore is upset with the progress along the road including the new intersection. jvorhees@macon.com

When Anne Mullendore walks outside her Forest Hill Road home, she sees tall grass in the rights of way, a pothole-filled roadway and unburied concrete pipes — all part of a major widening project she says isn’t moving fast enough.

“All of us have lost value on our houses,” she said. “It’s not just because of construction. It’s because they aren’t maintaining the rights of way and having grass growing 6 feet tall.”

Mullendore is among the neighborhood residents who say they haven’t seen a steady level of progress on the Forest Hill Road project, which began in early 2014.

However, the contractor and the Georgia Department of Transportation say the $8.4 million project remains on budget and on schedule. The work, with an aim of improving traffic flow from north Macon to the city’s west side, is set to wrap up in July 2016.

The project involves widening a 2-mile stretch of Forest Hill Road, adding a center turn lane to a portion of a road, adding 5-foot-wide sidewalks, and realigning Normandy Road and Glen Hill Court, along with South Forest Lake Drive and Newport Road.

Meanwhile, Old Lundy Road is being realigned with Lokchapee Drive, and later, sidewalks and guardrails will be installed there, DOT spokeswoman Kimberly Larson said in an email.

Chris Haynie, an estimator for contractor R.J. Haynie & Associates, which is performing the work, acknowledged there have been a couple of minor delays — including sewer line relocations — in the past few months, but he said the project is moving along well.

Mullendore also questioned why the design called for a turn lane to end before it got to the busy intersection of Forest Hill and Wimbish roads.

“It’s going to be a big mess,” she said.

For some residents, the seemingly slow pace of work is just one of their issues with the project.

Eleanor Morris, who has lived in the neighborhood 43 years, said she tries to avoid driving on Forest Hill Road even though she lives only one street away, off North Beechwood Drive. Although she said she thinks the construction company has done a good job, she said she’s most concerned about the condition of Forest Hill Road leading into Glenwood Drive.

“After they tore the concrete up, it left holes in that area, and they haven’t filled them yet,” she said. “There is a lot of traffic on Glenwood with cars coming in every day, and the holes are getting deeper. ... (Construction crews are) messing up a lot of yards and displacing a lot of people.”

Morris’ neighbor Gloria Stark said it will be a relief to see the construction completed.

Stark said there doesn’t appear to be much improvement that’s taken place even though she sees crews working. Construction work has created ruts in the road that have become troublesome, she said.

“You have to (drive) so slowly, and it’s getting worse,” she said.

Stark said she thinks the changes will be a positive once they’re finished.

“It seems to me like they are more worried about Old Lundy (Road) more than anything else right now,” she said.

Addressing the residents’ concerns, Haynie said he was unaware of any major overgrowth along rights of way. Crews cut the grass on a stretch of right of way weekly, but they can’t work on private property even if the grass is high.

“A lot of this (frustration) is seeing us tearing up the earth and there is no visible change,” Haynie said. “Now we’re getting into the things above ground that they can see and notice. We’re working on the cosmetic stuff — the sidewalk, the curb and gutter. We’re working on the (retaining) walls. Next, we’ll be leveling and patching, because the road is coming up a bit.”

Across the whole project, about 40 percent of concrete pipe has been installed. There have been some delays with relocating sewer lines, but that process is almost over, Larson said.

“We are completing the last of the sewer relocation,” she said.

Also, within the next month should be the start of installing a culvert at Sabbath Creek, according to the DOT.

A LONG TIME COMING

The nearly 20-year discussion about widening Forest Hill Road has spanned three Macon mayors, three Bibb County chairmen and the transition into Macon-Bibb consolidation before finally getting off the ground in March 2014.

Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Gary Bechtel said the lengthy time hopefully will culminate with a safer route on roads like Old Lundy and Forest Hill.

“I want to make certain that when the project is complete, it’s presentable and people whose lives were disturbed can see the results of what’s been done,” he said.

To get to the point of bulldozers moving dirt and a retaining wall being built was a bumpy road.

Several years ago, citizen advocacy group CAUTION-Macon got the DOT to revisit the design after pointing out faults in the state’s traffic counts used to rationalize the widening. CAUTION-Macon argued that the traffic numbers were skewed too high.

Then with the project set to begin in February 2013, Macon resident Lindsay “Doc” Holliday sued the DOT, arguing that its design would make Forest Hill Road more dangerous than a design he preferred. He cited environmental concerns, including the loss of the tree canopy along the wooded stretch of roadway. Holliday lost the case and did not file an appeal by the November 2013 deadline.

Daniel Choi, one of Forest Hill Road’s residents, said the road has become too busy for its size. He also agrees with some of his neighbors that the work is unsightly.

“It seems like they are doing a good job, but I kind of wish they would hurry because it’s getting annoying,” Choi said.

To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623.

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