Two hours after discussing the time and budget constraints for several transportation projects, state and local officials Wednesday broke ground on the $16.7 million Berckmans Road overhaul. Originally the overhaul was scheduled for next year but was started early to complete the first phase before the 2016 Masters Tournament.
Georgia Department of Transportation officials said they are exploring ways to scale back some road projects funded by the voter-approved 1 percent sales tax for transportation so they can remain on budget. Additionally, they are facing pressure to get bids on numerous projects by year’s end.
“There’s a lot of construction activity to be done between now and Dec. 31, 2015,” said Mike Dover, GDOT administrator for the transportation tax program.
The five-member CSRA Citizens Review Panel for the tax program met at the Augusta Public Library headquarters before the Berckmans Road groundbreaking. GDOT officials and Augusta Engineering Department representatives gave updates on their efforts.
The transportation tax program divided 84 projects for Richmond and 12 surrounding counties into three time periods for the projects to kick off. The first period began in 2013 coinciding with the start of tax collections and concludes in December.
On the voter-approved project list, widening and realigning Berckmans Road was scheduled for the last time period beginning in 2020.
It was moved to the second period that commences in January but was pushed up even more when Augusta National Golf Club agreed to front the city money.
Augusta Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell said the Berckmans Road design and engineering phases were complete and ready for construction while other more complicated projects needing work were moved to the end of the 10-year program.
The groundbreaking was held in the grassy field used as a parking lot for the Masters. Construction will begin next week to widen the road to three lanes and align it with Alexander Drive less than a half mile from its current output on Washington Road.
The new Berckmans Road will feature landscaping and three tunnels for pedestrians and vehicles. The first phase includes the road between Washington Road and Wicklow Drive. The second phase begins after next year’s Masters to complete construction to Wheeler Road including a bridge and roundabout.
Don Grantham, chairman of the State Transportation Board, said connecting Berckmans Road to Alexander Drive creates a direct route from commercial development on River Watch Parkway to the south side of the city.
“We were very fortunate to have the assistance of the Augusta National stating that ‘you’re waiting on your tax dollars to get collected before you can start your project,’ ” Grantham said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing this today.”
About five to seven other projects in the region are constrained by budgets, Dover said. It’s possible that landscaped, raised medians will be replaced with center left turn lanes and curbs while gutters and sidewalks will be eliminated to save money, he said.
Responding to a question from the review panel, Dover said he thinks the December deadline can be met.
“It is aggressive but we are going to make all the dates we set out for,” he said. “I’m comfortable and confident we can make that.”