People brought their questions to a public session on replacing the Interstate 20 bridges Tuesday, and the Georgia Department of Transportation had answers.
Some liked them, some didn’t.
Lenny Birt, who founded the group Friends of the Rapids, was concerned about possible damage to the shoals downstream of the river, and impacts on the sturgeon, red-eye bass and spider lilly.
He found DOT’s responses “encouraging.”
“They’ve thought about the impacts,” he said. “I’m just trying to bring focus to that stretch of the river.”
Less happy with the answers she got was Hazel Cook, executive director of the CSRA Land Trust, who is promoting the idea of adding bicycle-pedestrian lanes to the new bridges, scheduled to start construction in 2019 and finish in 2022.
DOT has looked at the proposal and found it too expensive at $6 million to $8 million, and potentially damaging to the relict trillium, an endangered plant, according to Tim Matthews, senior design build project manager for the agency. But Cook and others, like Russell Foster, of the bike advocacy group Wheel Movement, think it’s not the final answer.
This is a chance to make a big economic impact by creating a “destination” for riders nationwide, both said. And if it’s not done now, the chance won’t come again for maybe 50 years.
Bike-pedestrian lanes across the river could connect 150 miles of riding and walking trails, from the Augusta Canal Trail and North Augusta’s Greeneway to Columbia County’s planned Euchee Creek Trail and a south Augusta trail on Land Trust property that will run from the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam to Fort Gordon, Cook said.
She calls the envisioned network the Savannah River Greeneway.
The trillium can be safely and successfully moved and for a relatively small amount of money – the overall bridge replacement is costing $75 million – Augusta, Columbia County and North Augusta could have a network that will draw bicycle enthusiasts from all over.
“It would be an attraction,” Cook said. People would come from across the region to ride it, spending time and money.
Foster said he could easily imagine someone driving along I-20, seeing signs for the Savannah River Greeneway, pulling over, taking their bike off the back of the car and riding for awhile. That person would likely be a millennial, the sort of person the cyber boom is expected to bring to the area, and a likely resident of North Augusta’s Riverside Village at Hammond’s Ferry.
The path to success involves getting local governments to ante up for a DOT match. The locals would only need to raise 20 percent of the total, Foster said. He and Cook have talked to local and state officials and are optimistic about their chances.
DOT held the informational session as a requirement of federal law, because it intends to temporarily close the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area and Towpath during construction.
Up to two temporary closures lasting eight weeks each are anticipated. Canoeing and kayaking on the canal at the site of the bridges will be restricted as well, for about the same length of time. DOT would schedule the closures for December-March, when recreational use is lowest.
“During construction/demolition, debris curtains and/or netting would be used under the I-20 bridges to catch falling debris. A temporary safety canopy would also be constructed over the Towpath in the construction area to allow for safe passage of trail users under the bridges during the construction,” according to information distributed at the meeting.
People who attended – more than 55 – could leave their comments during the session or send them in later by letter or email. Other questions handled by DOT staffers Tuesday included safety, something that concerned Johnny and Elaine Womack.
“They explained how they’ll do it in sections,” Johnny Womack said. “In my personal opinion, it’ll be a lot safer. I hope the wrecks and injuries will be cut down.
Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or firstname.lastname@example.org