A massive highway construction project is in its early stages, but its wake already has many local businesses and land owners making big changes.
The Georgia Department of Transportation's planned $85 million project aimed at easing traffic problems where Interstate 20 and Bobby Jones Expressway meet already has restaurants such as Applebee's and Checkers preparing for an inevitable relocation when construction begins in 2008.
"We don't want any downtime," said Robert Black, who owns the Checkers franchise at 597 Bobby Jones Expressway.
He will close the restaurant in about two months and open a new one several blocks away near the Lowe's store.
In all, the state will spend about $43 million acquiring 48 parcels in what will be one of the largest construction projects the state has ever done in the Augusta area.
The Applebee's near the planned interchange project will stay in business until construction forces it to close.
"We have some time down there yet; it'll be business as usual for quite a while," said regional manager Jason Beall, who has yet to determine a new location for the restaurant.
The restaurant's owner, Atlanta-based Restaurant Concepts, sold the property last month to investment company CNL Financial Group Inc. for $2.5 million.
Other businesses, such as the Stardust Skate Center and Expressway Landscaping Products, hope to keep operating until the construction start date is near.
"They (the DOT) have kept saying since 2002 we've got to move, we've got to move, and it has us on pins and needles every day. We're hoping it'll last for 10 years, but we know it's not going to last that long," said Katheryn Beasley, who owns Expressway Landscaping with her husband, Bill.
The couple plans to stay within Richmond County when they do move, because their business needs at least half an acre of land - not an easy plot to track down in Columbia County, Ms. Beasley said.
Stardust Skate Center owner Evard Dodge said he wants to relocate to within two miles of his current location.
Eventual traffic flow changes for the area have motivated at least one businessman to relocate even though the project won't force him to move.
L.D. Waters, the owner of Bonaventure Discount Golf, has plans to build a new store near the Home Depot on Bobby Jones Expressway by the time the interchange project is complete.
"Half of our business comes off the interstate," he said.
The prospect of improved access to the area also has spurred the sale and development of nearly 10 acres behind the Best Buy on Walton Way Extension.
"I think it made a big difference," said Pam Baldwin, a vice president with Blanchard and Calhoun Commercial, which plans to break ground on an 18,000-square-foot office building.
Logging also has begun on part of one large parcel at the intersection of Walton Way Extension and Interstate 20, where the state will build an exit ramp for westbound traffic.
"We're cutting it in anticipation of selling (the lot) to the Georgia Department of Transportation. If the highway comes through, hopefully it'll be good for everyone," said Cobbs Nixon, the spokesman for the Nixon Trusts, which owns the land.
Reach Adrian Burns at (706) 823-3352 or email@example.com.