Originally created 11/09/99

Highway plan to hit businesses

Get your Checker Burger while you still can -- the fast-food restaurant is one of several businesses that might be torn down to make way for road improvements at the interchange of Interstate 20 and Bobby Jones Expressway.

The possible improvements -- presented at a public information meeting Monday night -- would require demolition of the Race Trac gas station at Bobby Jones Expressway and Scott Nixon Memorial Boulevard, along with Checkers and Appleby's restaurants across the street. The expanded roads would take over part of the parking lot of Sam's Club, and could affect Skate Town and Waffle House near the same intersection, said Rusty Merritt, Richmond County area engineer for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

"You've got to remember, though, this is only a preliminary plan," he said. "It could be affected by tonight's meeting."

The plans are part of a DOT project to update the interstate interchange, which is almost 20 years out of date and usually shows up on the list of the most dangerous intersections in Richmond County. Between 1994 and 1998, 260 crashes with 56 injuries occurred on the ramps and merge lanes of the intersection.

"Overall, I've been hearing support for the project," said Jim Simpson, a DOT road designer who answered questions at Monday's informal meeting. "People have been saying it's needed because of the growing problems in the area."

The project would eliminate the northwestern loops of the intersection's cloverleaf and replace them with flyovers -- elevated bridges such as those found at Atlanta's "Spaghetti Junction." Construction for the project would stretch from 3,000 feet south of Wheeler Road to 1,100 feet north of Scott Nixon, which would require businesses around the Scott Nixon intersection be knocked down.

Related construction also would reach as far east as Walton Way Extension and Davis Road. Improvements on Walton Way Extension would include medians that would make the road right turn only -- a move that concerned some residents and developers who are worried about easy access to their driveways, Mr. Simpson said.

Federal dollars would pay for 80 to 90 percent of the project, estimated at $64 million. State money would make up the difference. Engineers say they hope to begin construction in 2002 and finish by 2005.

With the looming possibility of Augusta failing tightened clean-air standards, the project will be in a race with the clock. If the Augusta-Aiken area is unable to clean up industrial pollution, predictions say it will violate federal clean-air regulations -- and find itself subject to restrictions on new industry and road construction -- about the time the interchange project is scheduled to begin.

If the state is able to begin the project first, it probably will be allowed to complete it, even if Augusta fails the standards during construction, said state Sen. Don Cheeks, D-Augusta, who attended Monday's meeting.

Preliminary plans for the project are available for review and comment for 10 days at the DOT area engineer's office, 4260 Frontage Road.

Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223.


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