The new five-mile stretch of Bobby Jones Expressway will pave the way, literally, for more Augusta manufacturing and an extension into South Carolina up to Interstate 20 in North Augusta.
The county's final portion of the expressway, from Doug Barnard Parkway to Sand Bar Ferry Road, opened to the public Friday morning after a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by state Department of Transportation Commissioner Wayne Shackleford.
"This expressway will be a vital transportation option for commuters, truckers and tourists," Mr. Shackelford said of the $41 million road. "It's a most important link in this region, and we did it while protecting the environment."
The highway passes over almost 1,500 acres of wetlands. Bridge openings for animals to pass through and silt barriers to reduce erosion will help preserve the area's wildlife, Mr. Shackleford said. During construction, crews didn't work in the spring because game birds were nesting.
"It shows the nation how transportation and the environment can be accommodated in the same corridor," said Jimmy Lester, a local attorney and state Board of Transportation chairman.
The South Carolina side of the expressway, which could cost up to $140 million, won't begin construction until 2000, said Wrenn Barrett, assistant to the South Carolina Highway Engineer. A Savannah River bridge and an extension to U.S. Highway 1 would be built first, Mr. Barrett said. Eventually, the expressway would loop around North Augusta and link with Interstate 20 at South Carolina Exit 5.
Before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Mr. Shackleford met in the Municipal Building with Augusta commissioners and state legislators to discuss other local road projects.
The Savannah River Parkway, a highway linking Augusta to the coast, could open by 2002 or 2003, Mr. Shackleford said.
"We're very focused on it," he said. "This is the strongest manufacturing zone in the state, and to have no decent road to the port is wrong."
The top Richmond County priority is widening Barton Chapel Road from U.S. Highway 1 to Glenn Hills Drive. Paving a section of rural McCombs Road in south Richmond County and improving storm sewers along Walker and Forsyth streets were named the second and third priorities. These projects could begin in three to six months, commissioners said.