The sign said July 18. But two weeks later, Butt Memorial Bridge on 15th Street hadn’t been closed, and work crews were nowhere in sight.
Welcome to Augusta’s largest road construction push ever, compliments of the Transportation Investment Act, city Engineering Director Abie Ladson said.
“This is historic for Augusta,” Ladson said. “For the most part, for about 40-something projects, they’re doing a hell of a job.”
Details such as the date of a bridge closure are subject to change, he said. Late Friday, the city announced that one of the bridge’s northbound lanes will close Monday.
Augusta opted to administer most of the city’s projects funded by the Transportation Investment Act, a 10-year, 1 percent sales tax that voters across a 13-county region approved in 2012. Despite a huge state push, voters in nine of 12 regions, including metro Savannah,
Macon and Atlanta, nixed the plan.
“Y’all were out front, in a time that was down,” said Tim Knight, a consultant and project manager on several of the Augusta-area projects.
A strict schedule requires all 49 “Band 1” projects to be already under construction, and they are, officials said at a meeting Thursday. Six Augusta projects are done: improving two Highway 88 intersections and resurfacing sections of Highland Avenue, Jackson and Pleasant Home roads and Walton Way Extension.
Knight praised what is budgeted as a $45 million effort to revamp and extend River Watch Parkway while bemoaning utility relocation issues he said have the Wrightsboro Road and Robinson Avenue projects in Grovetown “at a standstill” with many months of work remaining.
The state’s collections of the tax remain down, said Kelvin Mullins, the TIA administrator for the Georgia Department of Transportation. They’ve been consistently 15 percent below projections since the start, he said.
In the program’s first 3½ years, the TIA had generated $223.8 million, including $56 million of 25 percent “discretionary” funds, he said. The funds are less than a third of the $728 million in regional projects planned in 2011 dollars over the tax’s 10-year lifespan.
Mullins said the government is making up for an expected shortfall by realizing savings on projects “here and there” to “ensure we can build all the projects in all three bands.”
Getting underway now is a state-administered widening of 15th Street in Augusta between Government and Milledgeville roads, said Eric Wilkerson, the TIA regional coordinator for the state Transportation Department.
The $21.4 million project calls for reconstructing the section of Milledgeville Road to 15th Street from five lanes to four, separated by a median, and widening the portion from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Government Road from two lanes to four with a median, according to a TIA project information sheet.
The widening portion was good news to Ozie Jones, who runs a barber shop across from T.W. Josey High School on 15th Street.
“There’s constant traffic back and forth, with ambulances and police,” said Jones, whose property won’t be affected. “It will help a lot.”
TIA Construction Manager Tony Collins said Windsor Spring Road Phase 4 in south Augusta is 20 percent complete. The $25 million project of blended TIA and other funds is widening Windsor Spring Road from Willis Foreman Road to Tobacco Road from two to four lanes.
In Columbia County, the Old Petersburg Road widening project, to become the River Watch Parkway extension, is 58 percent complete, he said.
Perhaps more than most of the projects, the River Watch Parkway extension has taken a toll on residents, said Lori Greenhill about those who live along the former two-lane road. Many homeowners have seen part of their front yards purchased but not their entire homes, leaving them near what will be a busy road with a median, sidewalks and bike lanes.
“If they burn down today, they don’t meet the setback ordinance,” said Greenhill, who heads an advocacy group for homeowners affected by the construction.
The new road will help many commuters but will make it tougher for homeowners, she said.
“For people that have to commute from here to downtown, I’m sure it will be a plus for them, especially during Masters,” she said. “The downside is that all the residents will all have to go right and make a U-turn around the median.”
Other projects in the works include John C. Calhoun Expressway, which Ladson said was about 35 percent complete. Relocation of utilities to widen Marks Church Road is about 60 percent complete. Ladson said that with two Broad Street bridge projects, at least one lane will remain open throughout construction. They and the Butt Bridge projects – for which the Augusta Canal has been drained – are about 5 percent complete, he said.
Band 3 of Augusta projects, set to begin in 2020, “pretty much consists of downtown,” Ladson said, with streetscape and street improvements planned for Fifth, Sixth, 13th, Telfair, Greene and Broad streets. The city already hired a consulting firm, Cooper Carry, to develop an overall plan for the area, he said.