Originally created 09/12/99

City upgrading all routes



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.

Interstate

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.

New highways

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 rail

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

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.

Giving industries a place to park

Here is a list of industrial parks currently under development:

RICHMOND COUNTY

Forward Augusta Industrial Park

Size:

65 acres

Location:

Tobacco Road

Mattel: Employed 200, but set to close in three to four months.

V.F. Playwear: Employment not available

Augusta Corporate Park

Size:

1,500 acres now under development

No development yet

COLUMBIA COUNTY

Horizon South Industrial Park

Size:

399 acres

Location:

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

AIKEN-EDGEFIELD

Verenes Park

Size:

200 acres, 60 acres of usable land available

Location:

U.S. Highway 1 and Interstate 20

Pepperidge Farms: 140 employees

Carlisle Tire and Wheel: 350

United Defense: 200

Smith, Kline and Beecham: 250

Beloit-Manhattan: 155

Ferguson's Industries: Number not available

Ventures Park

Size:

New 184-acre park

Location:

The Aiken airport

Tenants:

None yet

Targeting aviation industries for the park.

Summit Business Center

Size:

25,000-square-foot spec building

Location:

North Aiken on Rutland Avenue

Currently under construction.

Sage Mill

Size:

1700 acres; 600 acres available

Location:

Bettis Academy Road

Bridgestone/Firestone: 650

SKF USA: 150

Avondale Distribution: 50

Standard Warehouse: 50

Edgefield Park

Size:

269 acres

Location:

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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