Monday, August 31, 2009

Funding very likely to delay final leg of the Four-Lane Highway


At least as far back as 1969, the one thing that was always found at the top of the wish list of needed economic development tools was the four-laning of U.S. 27.

Since the 1930s the highway had provided a lifeline of tourists and commerce to communities along its route from Miami to Michigan, including Blakely and Early County.


That all began to change in the late 1950s with the construction of I-75 which eventually siphoned off the north-south traffic and lured industry with its connectivity to major highways stretching across the country.


Following years of promises from state officials, it was 20 years later, in 1989, that it finally appeared the four-laning of U.S. 27 might become a reality as a part of GRIP, the Governor's Road Improvement Program.


GRIP originally consisted of 12 corridors with 2,845 miles of roadway. Several additional routes were added to GRIP in 2001 and 2005 extending the GRIP corridors to 3,309 miles.


GRIP was designed to provide opportunities for growth for rural communities by connecting Georgia cities to the interstate system. The additional four-lane roads were also needed to provide safer, more efficient transportation


Construction has been completed on five of the 12 original corridors. The fourlaning of U.S. 27 is 86 percent complete with 304 of 352 miles completed and open to traffic. The current estimated cost to complete construction of the U.S. 27 corridor is $775.9 million.


With the exception of a bypass at Summerville, a new bypass around Rome and a new connector just north of LaGrange, the northern leg of the U.S. 27 fourlaning is complete.


The final leg of the four-laning below Columbus consists of the 24.6 mile stretch of highway between Blakely and Cuthbert.


Right of way acquisition is 80 percent complete for the 7.8 mile stretch between the Cuthbert bypass and the Carnegie- Vilulah Road in Randolph County. Construction of this project has been approved for 2010. However, lack of funds is likely to delay this project possibly to 2014.


Right of way acquisition is 85 percent complete for the 6.8 miles between the Carnegie-Vilulah Road and the Bluffton bypass in Clay County, which has already been completed. The proposed construction date for this project is also 2010. Lack of funding, however, may push this project back as far as 2016.


Right-of-way acquisition has been completed for the 10-mile stretch between the Bluffton bypass and the Blakely bypass. However, according to a U.S. 27 fact sheet updated by the GDOT in July, the estimated $18.5 million construction funding has not been identified for this project.


In fact, the final 10- mile leg of the U.S. 27 project between Blakely and Bluffton has been delayed and designated as a long range project.


"Not in our lifetime" was the feeling everyone had about the fourlaning of U.S. 27 until construction began about a decade ago.


That feeling has recently resurfaced as a result of the GDOT funding shortfalls that have been identified over the past year and with the inevitable decline in federal funding as result of the economic recession.


"Requests have been made by GDOT for stimulus monies for the projects," GDOT communications officer Craig Soloman told the

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