GDOT commish says I-85 toll lane expansion begins this summer
Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry gave members of the Gwinnett Chamber fair warning on Wednesday: Orange construction barrels and cones are coming to Interstate 85 this summer.
The GDOT leader told the chamber that construction work on new high-occupancy toll lanes that extend the existing toll lanes north to Hamilton Mill Road is expected to begin in August. Ten miles and new toll lanes will be built over the next two years between Old Peachtree Road and Hamilton Mill Road as part of the project.
“They are actually working through design now, getting the permits in place and ready to turn dirt in August,” McMurry said. “That’s about a $149-$150 million investment in mobility and trying to bring mobility up the northeast side of the county, up the 85 corridor which is such a lifeline.”
The HOT lane expansion news was one of several Gwinnett-related transportation projects McMurry discussed during his visit to the chamber.
The head of GDOT also said the agency will be working on plans to install new interchanges and overpasses at existing intersections on state Highway 316 as officials move toward making it a limited access highway to the Athens area. The state will begin designing the interchanges later this year and will then conduct engineering and environmental work.
Funding for right-of-way acquisition on those interchanges is expected to become available in 2020, McMurry said. Other plans, which McMurry said are still at the “starting gate,” include adding new regular lanes on I-85 from Hamilton Mill Road to the Jefferson area.
However, the big news was the announcement that construction on the HOT lane expansion project will begin this summer. McMurry said the will build new lanes in the existing median for the tollway instead of converting existing lanes. There will be one lane for each direction, he added.
“We’re going to get some improvements just in the normal lanes besides having the express lanes, so we’re very excited that that project is underway,” he added.
Officials at GDOT are getting underway on the long anticipated project after new state and federal funding bills became law over the last year.
McMurry said the funding measures have been to turning around GDOT’s ability to get projects off the drawing board. The state’s funding bill reconfigured how Georgia raises money for transportation projects by establishing a new consolidated fuel tax.
Meanwhile, Congress passed a five-year transportation funding bill at the end of last year, marking the first time in years that the federal government has had a long-term funding bill for transportation projects. McMurry said the federal funding bill was key in giving state officials enough confidence to move forward with several projects across the state.
“Last year, the federal government was basically unable to reimburse Georgia at three different times last year,” he said. “You can’t plan, you can’t do what takes three to five years to build, if you don’t have funding certainty that you’re going to have the dollars to go to the next step.
“Some of these (projects) you could never start because you never knew that you could finish them.”
U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., said design and construction firms that deal with transportation projects across the country are seeing business pick up now that local and state governments have more confidence in the availability of long-term federal funding.
As a member of the House Transportation Committee, Woodall was involved in getting the long-term funding bill passed after a long series of short-term funding bills that lasted only months at a time.
“It’s not an academic conversation,” he said. “We’re talking about folks making it to the opening pitch of their son’s Little League game or folks making it to the start of the lacrosse event time and time again. This is real life and folks are trading away time in their community, with their families and focused on other priorities because they’re stuck in traffic.
“This isn’t a difference in dollars. This is a difference in quality of life.”