St. Sebastian ramps, bridge aid commuters

The St. Sebastian Way bridge spanning the Augusta Canal provides a more direct route for people traveling to the medical centers on Walton Way from River Watch Parkway.

A new bridge over the Augusta Canal opened Friday, connecting Greene Street and Walton Way near the heart of the city's medical complex.


The bridge, part of the $30 million St. Sebastian Way construction project, connects to a series of new bridges and ramps that lead from Walton Way to River Watch Parkway. Drivers will now be able to exit at River Watch Parkway and take a more direct route to the medical areas.

"It's paved and ready to go," said Mike Keene, the area engineer for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Officials opened two ramps at River Watch Parkway this week.

Still under construction is the expansion of a bridge at 15th Street. The busy road has been closed for several months after problems with the redesign forced officials to push the completion date, Keene said.

Expected to open in either late November or December, that bridge will be the final piece in a major reworking of downtown roads that has been in planning since the mid-1980s.

St. Sebastian Way was originally designed as a way to bypass the city's railroad tracks and some stoplights by demolishing the historic Butt Memorial Bridge at 15th Street and building a wider span.

That plan prompted an outcry from community groups who mobilized a campaign to "Save Our Butt." A 17-year stalemate ensued until 1998, when the money set aside for the project was shifted to build a new bridge at St. Sebastian Way instead.

The 98-year-old structure -- adorned with gilded lions, glass globes and masonry eagles -- was dedicated by President Taft in an emotional ceremony to his friend Maj. Archibald Butt, the bridge's namesake.

Butt was killed while on assignment from Taft to take a message to the pope when the ship he had booked for the voyage home struck an iceberg.

That ship was the Titanic.

St. Sebastian Way's current route will leave the Butt Memorial Bridge intact but it's likely to lessen the load of the more than 14,000 vehicles that pass over its steep rise each day.

Drivers will use the new River Watch Parkway ramps to cross Broad Street behind the railroad tracks, travel up Greene Street then make a right toward the new span and onto Walton Way.

When the project ends this winter, it will leave just one other major DOT project ongoing in Richmond County. A realignment and expansion of Alexander Drive is under way and expected to be complete by January 2013.