Originally created 06/19/00

Road plan sprouts concern



Transportation officials hope an informal public meeting today will dispel rumors that a pending road-widening project might harm one of Augusta's most popular natural resources.

Scuttlebutt surrounding widening plans for a 2.6-mile stretch of Wrightsboro Road - between Maddox Road and the southbound ramp of Bobby Jones Expressway - led officials to expedite an informal forum about the project.

"There was an excessive amount of misinformation among citizens about what we were considering doing," not the least of which was a rumor the road project would harm the Flowing Wells Spring, said Teresa Smith, pre-construction engineer for the Department of Public Works and Engineering.

Engineers said the spring, located on Wrightsboro Road across from Flowing Wells Road, will be protected.

"People from all over get their water from that well," Ms. Smith said. "I'd say about 90 percent of the calls I've gotten are from people concerned about the (widening project's) impact on the well."

Transportation officials typically wait until road-design concept plans are approved for preliminary engineering work before holding a public information meeting. And because widening concept plans for the road are incomplete - and will be until approved by the Georgia Department of Transportation late this summer - there are an array of uncertainties surrounding the road project.

"When (the state) starts working on this plan, there's a possibility there will be changes made," Ms. Smith said.

But it is certain the spring's integrity will be preserved, she said, as is the case with a handful of other historic structures along Wrightsboro Road.

Still, there are other components of the widening plan that could attract resistance from residents.

Drafts of the design plan show that widening the road from two to four lanes - while incorporating medians and turn lanes - would require purchasing additional right of way from some property owners. Existing county right of way is 60 feet, and right of way requirements for the new road would be an average of 100 feet.

As many as 40 homes and businesses could be displaced or need structural changes to make room for the widened corridor.

And a portion of the existing road likely will become a cul-de-sac to correspond with engineers' plans to correct a sharp curve between Maddox Drive and Barton Chapel Road. The current road alignment does not meet DOT safety standards, and engineers say straightening the arc while avoiding identified historical properties requires building a new portion of road.

Construction on the proposed widening, if approved, would start in 2003 with a projected cost of about $8.5 million, with right of way estimates at about $5.4 million.

Local sales-tax dollars would contribute $1 million to engineering design work.

Some other key points in the proposed widening plan include:

Realigning Barton Chapel Road and Augusta West Parkway to create a single intersection with traffic signals

Adding raised medians, bike lanes, curb, gutter and sidewalk to the section of roadway

Synchronizing traffic signals on Wrightsboro Road

Adding a new intersection with traffic signals to tie existing Belair Road into a realigned Wrightsboro Road

The speed limit on the road will remain 35 mph.

Traffic counts indicate about 29,600 vehicles travel on Wrightsboro Road in a single day. That number will to grow to nearly 40,000 vehicles per day by 2020, city traffic engineers predict. A new retirement center under construction on Augusta Hills Parkway is expected to create added congestion.

"Wrightsboro Road is a good connection between Augusta Mall and west Augusta and Columbia County," said Mary Huffstetler, transportation planner for the city's Metropolitan Planning Organization. "It provides a good connector between commercial hubs. Just as the population increases, the amount of vehicle miles traveled will increase."

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.

Public meeting

What: An open-forum public information meeting

Where: Sue Reynolds Elementary School, 3713 Wrightsboro Road

When: 4-7 p.m. today

Why: Traffic officials will answer questions and garner comments about the proposed widening of Wrightsboro Road between Maddox Road and the southbound ramp of Bobby Jones Expressway.

For more information: Call the Department of Public Works and Engineering at 796-5040