Today the roadwork that has consumed major chunks of asphalt on and off Interstate 985 and two ends of Ga. 53 in Hall County for months is on hold — but only for a short while.
The Thanksgiving holiday brought a scheduled halt to construction as the Georgia Department of Transportation tries to accommodate the record number of travelers on state roads.
But soon enough, work will gear up again. And thanks to the drought, the multimillion-dollar road projects in Hall are ahead of schedule.
"About the only thing the drought is good for is road construction," said DOT spokeswoman Teri Pope. "Most of our projects in the region are ahead of schedule simply because we haven’t had the rain days."
The expansion of Dawsonville Highway from Lake Ranch Court to Duckett Mill Road is now 70 percent finished, and the Winder Highway project, at 45 percent completion, is also ahead of schedule.
But the "big daddy," as officials put it, some $74 million worth of work at Exit 16 on I-985, remains about two years from being finished. Still, with a completion date of February 2010 and 55 percent finished, the Exit 16 project is ahead of schedule, officials say.
The Exit 16 project involves interchange reconstruction and addition of collector-distributor roads, as well as new ramps.
Pope said while the ramp to Mundy Mill Road is open, the ramps to Atlanta Highway are three to four months away from being open.
First, work must be completed to widen Atlanta Highway to receive the traffic. That will entail expanding the road from two lanes to four from Frontage Road to south of Blackshear Place Baptist Church.
"In order to get those two additional lanes, we’ve got to finish the new bridge over 985," Pope said.
While the columns have been up a few months, the process of adding the horizontal piece called the cap just started last week. It will take 90 to 120 days to finish the bridge, with periodic testing to ensure that the concrete is strong enough, Pope said.
"As you see that construction happening, you’ll know we’re getting closer and closer to opening that ramp to Atlanta Highway, and that’s very exciting," Pope said.
As for a target date, "Sometime in 2008 is as specific as I can get now," she said.
In the Mundy Mill Road portion of the project, the route will be expanded to six lanes — three lanes in each direction — from the new Wal-Mart store to Hollywood Video.
Currently workers are removing the old asphalt and recycling it as they build the road back up.
"By rebuilding the old road, it’s kind of preventive maintenance," she said.
Pope cautions motorists not to attempt left turns from Mundy Mill onto Frontage Road or Old Oakwood Road, where a traffic signal was taken down during the road work.
"It really backs up traffic when (trying) to turn left there," Pope said, and added that she’s seen traffic barrels knocked down by drivers attempting the maneuver. "It’s not a safe or smart thing to do."
Under I-985, Mundy Mill Road will become 10 lanes wide — wide enough to create dual left turn lanes onto I-985 south and I-985 north.
"In order to span that width, we’re actually rebuilding the 985 bridge over Mundy Mill," Pope said.
By the end of the year, southbound traffic on the interstate will be moved over to the new bridge spanning Mundy Mill, Pope said.
On Dawsonville Highway, westbound traffic has been moved over to what will eventually be the new eastbound lanes, as the road will be widened to four lanes to Duckett Mill Road.
Weather will be a factor in whether the four lanes are opened by the end of the calender year, Pope said. If it stays relatively warm, the asphalt work could be completed. Cold weather would prevent completion by the end of the year.
Work should continue on Sardis and Chestatee Roads into the late spring or early summer.
On Ga. 53, the DOT is working to upgrade the Union Church Road intersection, moving the side road 200 feet closer to the east to make a 90 degree angle instead of the more dangerous 45 degree angle intersection that existed.
"It will really improve things through there," Pope said.
The entire $24 million project, which will create a four-lane divided highway with a 44-foot median, will connect with the Exit 16 project. It is slated to be finished by the end of next year.