Originally created 09/15/03

Funds speed road plans



Jerry Coalson is looking forward to the opening of the Savannah River Parkway - a four-lane highway that will link Augusta and Savannah.

Now, because of a state highway bond package that recently awarded $66.3 million to the Augusta area, the Waynesboro city administrator's wait won't be as long.

The funds will allow the completion of three projects between Augusta and Millen that have delayed the highway.

For Mr. Coalson, the quicker work is good news because the highway will pass near his city.

"The biggest voice that we've heard is folks that are excited about the extra ability to attract industry," he said. Waynesboro's lack of a four-lane link to Augusta and Savannah has hurt the city, he said.

An easier drive from Augusta to Savannah, which will bypass downtown Waynesboro, has moved significantly closer to reality because of money awarded to the Augusta area Sept. 4. It was the largest chunk of a statewide $324 million bond package announced by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The Augusta area's sum will be divided among three Savannah River Parkway projects between Augusta and Millen.

"After completion (in the Augusta area), there's not a whole lot left (on the entire parkway)," said Jimmy Lester, who represents the Augusta area on the Georgia Department of Transportation board.

Transportation officials say work on the three projects could begin by the end of this year, and the entire parkway could be open by late 2005.

"We're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," said Mike Thomas, of the DOT.

One of the projects in the area now funded, Mr. Thomas said, will start at the north end of the Waynesboro bypass on U.S. Highway 25 and extend 5.9 miles toward Augusta. That project received $19,543,000, he said.

The second project stretches 10 miles north from the end of the first project to the intersection of U.S. 25 and State Route 88 near Hephzibah. It received $27,864,000.

The third project extends 8.9 miles south of the Waynesboro bypass on U.S. 25 and has been awarded $18,883,000.

Mr. Coalson said that although the highway will bypass downtown Waynesboro, preventing large trucks from entering, signs will be placed on the highway to direct people to downtown shops.

Mr. Lester said the money for the projects is expected to be available within the next month.

"It should be shortly," he said.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.