For Leticia Selph, it’s hard to stay positive about the construction on many of the Augusta area’s more traveled routes.
Her morning commute usually consists of bumper-to-bumper traffic on Mike Padgett Highway between Bennock Mill and Old Waynesboro Roads, where a $28.9 million widening and reconstruction project is underway.
“I’m hoping that it’s going to be a real positive if we can just get through the turmoil with the construction,” she said.
It will be, say economic development and other officials in Richmond and Columbia counties.
The projects aim to reduce traffic congestion on Augusta’s “arteries,” and improved safety and economic standing are believed to be potential side effects.
There are 30 road construction projects underway in Richmond and Columbia counties, with an additional 28 projects considered to be in the design phase, according to figures provided by the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Transportation Investment Act program.
Throughout the 13-county Central Savannah River Area defined by the transportation act, there are 84 projects planned through 2022, with more than $730 million budgeted.
Walter Sprouse, the executive director of the Augusta Economic Development Authority, said the improved road infrastructure could lead to economic opportunities.
When touring the area with businesses considering Augusta for their operations, Sprouse said, he points out that most of the city’s industrial parks can be accessed by wide roads that facilitate frequent deliveries.
If Augusta doesn’t have the road capabilities now, it will in the future, he said.
He uses the interchange of Mike Padgett Highway and Bobby Jones Expressway as an example, where tractor-trailers once had difficulty entering the expressway after picking up shipments. The interchange was revamped to improve traffic flow along the hilly stretch of Bobby Jones while allowing the trucks to merge into traffic without fear of causing an accident.
“That is an example of Georgia DOT responding to the traffic and safety need here in the community,” he said.
DOT Area Engineer Rodney Way said the magnitude of Augusta-area projects can be matched only by a couple other metro areas in Georgia.
“The amount of construction we have done in this area over the last five or six years has been beyond comparison,” he said. “There are probably one or two metro areas – around Atlanta or in Columbus – that could possibly compare to what we’re doing here in this area.”
The Columbus area and the Heart of Georgia Altamaha area (Dublin, Jesup and Vidalia) were the only other regions in Georgia to pass the 10-year 1 percent sales tax in 2012 for transportation improvements. Both areas were projected to generate less revenue than Augusta’s region.
Other TIA projects underway or scheduled to start soon include:
• An $11 million plan to improve Wrightsboro Road and Robinson Avenue, expected to be completed by September 2017.
• A $35 million project to extend River Watch Parkway to Washington Road in Evans, which is about halfway complete.
• Improvements at the River Watch Parkway and Interstate 20 interchange, including more than a mile of turn lane construction totaling $5.3 million.
• The addition of passing lanes on Washington Road between Ridge Road and Keg Creek. The $10 million project includes the replacement of the Keg Creek bridge. The widening of Washington Road between Gibbs Road and William Few Parkway falls under a special purpose local option sales tax passed by Columbia County voters and is not considered a TIA project. The plan was conceived when officials noticed rapid growth in the Riverwood Plantation area, Cassell said.
Though the project is receiving attention because of delays in travel times, Cassell noted that the William Few Parkway extension connecting Hardy-McManus and Columbia roads was completed in January 2015 and has been working as designed.
“With Washington Road under construction right now, it’s bled a lot of traffic that way and relieved that construction zone,” he said. “Your arterial system is really where you want your traffic to flow. If you’ve got capacity on your arterials, then everything moves. If Washington Road isn’t moving, nothing moves.”
Closer to Augusta, crews have been working since fall constructing nearly four miles of concrete barrier on River Watch Parkway, installing 200 lights in an $8.6 million effort to improve the route’s safety and beautify the thoroughfare at the same time.
The parkway has been reduced to one eastbound and one westbound lane throughout most of the construction, forcing motorists to seek alternate routes, Way said. Construction is projected to wrap up in July.
Once projects are completed, however, motorists tend to forget the temporary inconvenience.
“We don’t get the pats on the back when the project is done, but I guess our pat on the back is when we don’t hear any complaints,” Way said with a laugh. “In some cases, no news is good news.”