Houston & Peach

A major road in Houston became a better ride Monday

Orange barrels on Ga. 96 picked up

Houston County and state officials on Monday opened two of three phases of the Ga. 96 widening project.
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Houston County and state officials on Monday opened two of three phases of the Ga. 96 widening project.

At long last the orange barrels began disappearing from Ga. 96 in Houston County on Monday.

Officials celebrated the opening of two of three phases of the $100 million project that widens the road from two lanes to five through Houston County.

The two sections that opened were 7.1 miles from Moody Road to Interstate 75 in Peach County. Workers began picking up the orange barrels that have lined the highway for the three years it has been under construction.

The project was such a big deal that Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry came to the dedication ceremony. Traffic in the eastbound lanes near South Houston Lake Road was stopped briefly as about 40 officials went out into the road and cut the ribbon. Mayors of all three cities in the county were on hand, as well as Peach County commissioners.

The state is paying most of the cost, but Houston contributed $19.5 million in proceeds from a 2006 local option sales tax initiative to prompt the state to get it started. The remaining section from Moody Road to Thompson Mill Road is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

“This is the completion of a journey that began many, many years ago and had many, many players involved,” said Houston County Director of Operations Robbie Dunbar. “Today is evidence of what can be achieved when local leadership joins hands with state leadership and they roll up their sleeves and work hard.”

Although there are still some finishing touches left to be done, the opening came just ahead of the scheduled completion dates in the contracts for the two phases.

There is still a major portion left to complete the ultimate goal of a five-lane connector between Interstate 16 and Interstate 75. McMurry told The Telegraph that the state is buying rights of way to widen Ga. 96 from Houston County to I-16, but there is no funding in place to do the construction.

Houston County Commissioner Tommy Stalnaker said he is hopeful that section will get done in the next few years, but for now he is just happy to see the two phases completed.

“It couldn’t come at a better time,” he said. “This is a rapid growing part of the county, and it’s only going to get more condensed as we go forward.”