Originally created 09/30/03

Officials will not hasten project



With or without an amphitheater, Teresa Smith says, early construction on the widening of Windsor Spring Road most likely won't happen.

Ms. Smith, the director of Augusta Public Works, said officials met with the Georgia Department of Transportation recently to see whether the widening to four lanes in Hephzibah between Tobacco and Willis Foreman roads and Georgia Highway 88 and Willis Foreman could be moved up.

If so, it would improve access to a proposed amphitheater that would open in spring 2006 near Diamond Lakes Regional Park off Windsor Spring. Now, Ms. Smith said, officials have determined that the schedule shift would be difficult.

"It was determined that we would not be able to shorten that process and follow all the rules and guidelines," she said.

Some officials worried that without the project's early completion, a two-lane Windsor Spring wouldn't provide adequate access to the proposed amphitheater, effectively killing the idea.

Ms. Smith said the widening phase at the proposed amphitheater site, from Willis Foreman to Tobacco roads, won't begin until at least July 2005 and could take 18 to 24 months to complete.

City Administrator George Kolb said the amphitheater also faces another problem.

"Until that project has developed to a point where we can analyze the numbers and do some comparisons and look at some market studies, I don't see how it can begin to be considered by SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax)," he said.

Mr. Kolb said amphitheater planning could take three to four years.

"The (sales tax) money would just sit there, and it would deny projects that have already done the work," he said.

Town hall meetings are taking place on how to spend the tax money. Ultimately, it will be up to Augusta Commission members to select projects for the public to vote on.

Commissioner Ulmer Bridges, who represents the Hephzibah area, said more analysis is needed on the amphitheater plan. Regardless of its outcome, he said, an early widening of Windsor Spring would have helped motorists.

"Until it's four lanes, it obviously will have some hindrance on activities out at Diamond Lakes," he said.

The second phase of the Windsor Spring widening, from Highway 88 to Willis Foreman Road, has a construction start date of no earlier than July 2006.

The amphitheater's promoter, Jerry Dickerson, of Dickerson Entertainment Development Corp., said he's still optimistic about a spring 2006 opening.

"Short of the voters defeating the SPLOST referendum, I'm very confident this amphitheater will be done because it's good for Augusta," he said.

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