Late at night, when traffic slows and the hot sun goes away, a crew of construction workers has been widening Interstate 520 -- the multilane expressway that lets cars zip around the Augusta area.
It is one of many projects designed to improve area infrastructure -- the underpinning of cities that is so crucial to development, economic experts say. Good roads, rail and air service are some of the key criteria of companies looking to locate here.
If companies can't get their products where they need to go, Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce President Jim West explains, they won't come.
"Progress follows mobility," he is fond of saying.
In the Augusta area, future projects that could help bring more jobs and economic development include:
--Completion of the Interstate 520 loop
--Highways to Columbus and Savannah
--High-speed passenger rail service to Atlanta
--An air carrier that flies to another airport hub.
The Interstate 520 loop, nearly complete on the Georgia side of the Savannah River except for some complicated interchange improvements, could open convenient routes from south Augusta to Interstate 20 in South Carolina.
Construction workers have been widening and resurfacing the road between I-20 and U.S. 1, working mostly at night. The $22 million project is scheduled for completion in July.
For now, the loop ends in Georgia.
South Carolina is expected, eventually, to complete the rest.
There are also plans to redesign the interchange linking the expressway with I-20. But that will take time, transportation officials say.
Highways linking Augusta to Columbus and Savannah, projects on the drawing board for decades, may be completed within the next decade. These highways will offer improved access between Fort Gordon and Fort Benning, U.S. Army bases near Augusta and Columbus, and a road corridor from Augusta to Savannah.
Fall Line Freeway, a 215-mile stretch between Augusta and Columbia, could jump-start economic growth by bringing new industry. It is expected to cost about $418 million and is about half finished.
Savannah River Parkway, a 157-mile stretch between Augusta and Savannah, will offer a better route to the Savannah Ports, Georgia transportation department officials say. It is expected to cost about $275 million.
Both highways are scheduled for completion in 2006, although estimated completion dates have been pushed back several times.
"Augusta is a large manufacturing area -- for it to have improved access to the ports would be critical," transportation engineer David O. Griffith said. "If we're lucky, the projects should be completed in ten years, hopefully a little less."
High-speed passenger rail, an idea discussed since 1995, could offer Augusta a quicker link to Atlanta. Trains zooming along as fast as 110 mph could get passengers to the state's capital city in a little more than an hour.
Building such a rail line would offer more benefits than costs, a study by the state transportation department concluded. Among the benefits notedwere saving time, reduced pollution and fewer auto accidents.
As many as 131,000 riders would use the passenger rail in 2020, and fares for one way trips, based on rail service in other states, could range from $40.50 to $61.50, according to the study.
The cost of building such a rail line would be about $213 million.
One problem with the proposal is that there are no identified funding sources, and the Atlanta-to-Augusta corridor would likely be built only after corridors such as Atlanta-to-Macon and Atlanta-to-Albany or -Savannah, were built.
Air service, a critical requirement for corporate America, is also an economic development priority.
Local officials and community leaders say Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field needs another carrier to make nonstop, direct flights to another hub and force more competitive ticket prices.
Three carriers -- Continental, Comair and Northwest -- have been identified as recruitment prospects.
A $22 million terminal improvement project, which will make room for at least two more carriers, may help attract additional air service -- which could also help attract more economic development, chamber officials say.
Here is a list of industrial parks currently under development:
Forward Augusta Industrial Park
Mattel: Employed 200, but set to close in three to four months.
V.F. Playwear: Employment not available
Augusta Corporate Park
1,500 acres now under development
No development yet
Horizon South Industrial Park
Lewiston and Wrightsboro roads, Grovetown
Serta: Employs 110
John Deere: Employs 237
Trexco Associates: Employs 25
United Medical Enterprises: Employs 25
Owens Minor: Employs 37
Titan Distribution Inc.: Employs 25
200 acres, 60 acres of usable land available
U.S. Highway 1 and Interstate 20
Pepperidge Farms: 140 employees
Carlisle Tire and Wheel: 350
United Defense: 200
Smith, Kline and Beecham: 250
Ferguson's Industries: Number not available
New 184-acre park
The Aiken airport
Targeting aviation industries for the park.
Summit Business Center
25,000-square-foot spec building
North Aiken on Rutland Avenue
Currently under construction.
1700 acres; 600 acres available
Bettis Academy Road
SKF USA: 150
Avondale Distribution: 50
Standard Warehouse: 50
Off U.S. Highway 25
Under construction. Master plans currently being drawn, with roads paved in 90 days
Reach Frank Witsil at (706) 823-3352.
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