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DOT: Oakwood roadwork is ahead of schedule
On the Atlanta Highway bridge over I-985, two stages of construction are visible. On the right, concrete beams, metal deck pans, steel rebar and green epoxy coated rebar have been prepared for concrete to be poured over the structure. On the left, the materials are in the previous stage. - photo by Robin Michener Nathan

According to the calendar, the project to remake the main roads in Oakwood is at the halfway point, but the Georgia Department of Transportation said work is ahead of schedule.

Sunday marked the halfway point of the $74.6 million project, which is contracted to be completed by Feb. 10, 2010, and is funded through the DOT.

The massive project is "completely changing the way South Hall gets around," said Teri Pope, DOT communications officer for the Northeast Georgia District. "We’re revamping the whole area to create more access and increase the efficiency of the access we have."

Stan Brown, Oakwood’s city manager, said the improvements — which he called a "gift" — will help the city attract more quality development to the area, including more restaurants.

"It’s a lot of difficulty and inconvenience for motorists during the period of construction, but we think in the long run it’s going to be a much better situation," Brown said.

"I think overall we’re excited about the transportation improvements. This will help as far as alleviating traffic congestion on Mundy Mill Road. ... I think this is a very timely investment and will pay dividends in the future."

The project involves several components, including:

Widening Atlanta Highway (Ga. 13)

Widening Mundy Mill Road (Ga. 53)

Adding an exit and entrance from Interstate 985 to Atlanta Highway

Constructing a new route into Gainesville State College

Widening Thurmond Tanner Parkway

Adding sidewalks on Atlanta Highway and Mundy Mill Road

Building new, wider bridges on I-985 across Atlanta Highway and Mundy Mill

Upgrading the park and ride lot on Mundy Mill and adding one at Atlanta Highway

Pope said the project is ahead of schedule as the department takes advantage of "construction season" during the warm months.

"Now, if we get a lot of rain, that can easily change. But right now we are thankfully ahead of the completion date," Pope said. As for being on budget, Pope said contractors must complete the project for the price it is bid.

Because of the scope of the project, Pope said the DOT has tried to keep people informed since work began in June 2006. She also noted that people can call 511 for information.

"We have e-mails that go out about every two weeks about the status of the project to let businesses, residents and even students along the project know what’s happening before it happens," Pope said, adding that the e-mail list includes 800 people. "We’ve really tried hard to let folks know what’s happening because this is a very unusual project and it’s not just a road widening."

Brown said Oakwood officials have been pleased with the communication and cooperation they’ve gotten from the DOT.

"We get regular updates on the status of lane closures, and our police department has worked well with the contractor as far as traffic control," Brown said. "Overall, having been around a number of transportation projects in the past, I’ve been very pleased with how this one has progressed."

But despite the communication, there have been complaints from business owners about access while lanes were being added to Mundy Mill Road. Pope said the DOT always provides access, though sometimes via gravel driveways instead of asphalt.

"While we’re moving a road and then building it back up from the dirt all the way to the driving surface, you can’t have nice, smooth asphalt the entire time; it’s just not possible," Pope said. "It’s living through the growing pains of a project."

Brown agreed that dealing with the construction has been part of the "growing pains" of a project that will improve the traffic flow once completed.

"I think DOT did a good job of trying to minimize impacts as much as possible," he said.

Much of the work to be done this summer includes working on I-985 bridges over Ga. 13 and Ga. 53, Pope said. Though a lot of work will be going on, not all of it will affect traffic, such as work on curbs and gutters.

What will affect traffic through the summer is the work to widen Atlanta Highway. As was done on Mundy Mill Road, traffic will be shifted onto new lanes as those are completed, she said.

"It’s called staging the construction," Pope said. "We always have to let traffic flow through an area. There is a work zone out there 24 hours a day that people need to always pay attention to because it changes every day."

Pope stressed that it’s not only important to slow down and pay attention in order to avoid fines — which are doubled in construction zones — but also for safety.

"We try to hammer that fact home to folks because you are 85 percent more likely to get hurt driving through a work zone than I am (to get hurt) working in a work zone," she said. "It’s the people you care about most that usually end up in a car with you, so slow down 10 miles an hour to protect their safety. It just doesn’t make sense not to."

The widening of Atlanta Highway is being put off until school is out for the summer, Pope explained, to lessen the impact on nearby Johnson High and South Hall Middle schools.

In addition to work on the bridges and the widening of Atlanta Highway this summer, crews also will be painting the retaining wall along I-985 south, Pope said. The retaining wall is needed to lessen the impact on the Chicopee Woods Golf Course, a portion of which adjoins I-985. The paint will not only seal the concrete, but will improve the look of the massive structure, Pope said.

The roads also will have a nice, smooth surface of asphalt once the project is completed; the current surface is not the final driving surface, she said. For instance, the lane cars now drive in on I-985 southbound will be the shoulder once the project is completed, Pope said.