Extending Bobby Jones Expressway from Georgia into South Carolina and to Interstate 20 will create a nexus between Aiken and Richmond counties that should jump-start industrial and commercial development on both sides of the Savannah River, officials from both states say.
Completion of the highway extension's first leg is in sight, and signals of the anticipated growth are springing up.
On Monday, the Georgia Department of Transportation announced a deal with Gregory Bridge Co. to extend Bobby Jones, or Interstate 520, one mile from its stopping point at Laney-Walker Boulevard to the river, an agreement worth $8.9 million to the builder.
Construction is set to begin in six weeks and should be done by fall 2004, officials said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr., the chairman of the Appropriation Subcommittee on Transportation, will visit North Augusta on Monday. The Republican from Oklahoma will play a vital role in deciding whether the project receives the remaining funding needed to complete the $140 million extension.
Roughly half that sum has been funded with state money, but that only takes the road into North Augusta.
"Since it involves two states, I think it gives us a little more leverage at the federal level," said U.S. Rep. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a member of the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee who will accompany Mr. Istook.
Aiken officials should know about federal funding by summer's end, Mr. DeMint said.
Construction on the expressway, known as the Palmetto Parkway in Aiken County, from the river to U.S. Highway 1 in North Augusta should be complete by spring 2004, officials said.
Land values around the intersection, where an off ramp is planned, are rising. As one developer put it, real estate along roads connecting North Augusta and Highway 1 could "sizzle" with commercial development.
Aiken land broker Ronny Bolton said he is marketing four acres north of the I-520-U.S. 1 interchange for $400,000, double its previous price.
His real estate colleague Carl Shealy, of Midland Valley, predicts I-520 will send waves of commercial development toward Aiken.
"That's certainly going to open the area up over here," he said.
Similar speculation is going on in Augusta.
"There (already) is interest from property owners" near Laney-Walker Boulevard and Sand Bar Ferry Road who hope to sell their land to developers, said Ann Davis, a managing partner of Meybohm Commercial Properties in Augusta.
But the real opportunity is with new industry.
"One of the problems we've had over in the North Augusta area, as far as industrial development goes, is that it's been somewhat landlocked," said Fred Humes, the executive director of the Aiken-Edgefield Economic Development Partnership.
Connecting Aiken, Augusta and I-20 via I-520 also makes the area more accessible to larger hubs, a key component used to attract industry that ship goods out of the region.
"A lot of industries are very conscious to quick access," North Augusta Administrator Charles Martin said. "They want to be able to hop right on the interstate and head right on, whether it be the other side of town or Columbia or Atlanta."
Ultimately, officials envision extending I-520 across I-20 into Edgefield County and eventually Columbia County.
"This (the current extension) is just one more step in advancing the entire region," Mr. Humes said. "One of these days there will be a loop around the CSRA."
Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904.