Both ends of William Few Parkway soon will be getting a facelift.
Columbia County officials are finalizing plans for installing a traffic signal on William Few at Lewiston Road, improving the intersection at Chamblin Road, and gearing up for major construction to extend William Few north to meet Hardy McManus Road.
The first activity motorists will see is at the frequently gridlocked Lewiston-William Few intersection, said Columbia County Construction and Maintenance Division Director Matt Schlachter.
While the county will fund the light’s installation, including changes to traffic lanes, the project was stalled until passage of the Transportation Improvement Act and its funding mechanism, the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or TSPLOST, Schlachter said.
Because Lewiston Road is a state route, which the state Department of Transportation plans to widen from Wrightsboro Road to Columbia Road, the DOT was going to require far more extensive work from the county to allow them to install the light.
Since TSPLOST’s passage, however, the DOT will allow the county to make a few minor changes to the intersection – adding turning and merging lanes to both streets – and install the signals for a fraction of the cost.
“We went from spending about $4 million to about $200,000,” Schlachter said. “It’s a huge savings to the taxpayer.
“The other way it was going to be one year of bad construction and major traffic delays. It was going to be nasty,” he said. “All around, this is much better.”
The scaled-down project should start in the next couple of months, Schlachter said, with completion before the start of the next school year in August.
A few blocks away, at the Chamblin Road-William Few intersection, a new blinking red light for the three-way intersection has eased some of that bottleneck, but that’s just a temporary fix.
Once the county begins to receive discretionary funding from T-SPLOST - expected to be about $160,000 per month – the county will begin working on a redesign for that intersection.
The final design will be a roundabout or a standard lighted, three-way intersection with added turning lanes, Schlachter said. The decision on which one will be based on the recommendations of a consultant to be hired for the project.
“I think a roundabout will function better,” he said. “But we’ll have to see what kind of impact it has on the property around it,” because construction of a roundabout would need more adjoining land.
To minimize problems for school traffic during construction, the contract would limit work to hours outside of the typical school traffic jams, he added.
It won’t be for another year or so, but one major source of school traffic jams should get relief by the winter of 2014 when William Few Parkway is extended past its current dead end at Riverwood Drive, across Euchee Creek, to connect with Hardy McManus Road at Grace Baptist Church.
That project has been in the works for nearly 20 years, with several delays along the way.
“We’ve had a lot of hiccups,” Schlachter said, including a consultant going out of business in the middle of a job, an engineer being replaced because of a conflict, a change in the scope of the project midway, and the state forcing the county to resubmit environment assessments.
“We’ve just been snakebit from day 1,” he said. “Every time we made it two steps forward, we’d take two steps back.”
With the final environmental approvals expected soon, and with all streambank and wetlands mitigation credits purchased to the tune of more than $300,000, the project should be ready to go out to bids as early as May, Schlachter said.
“It’ll actually be built with federal dollars, which is why we had to go through so much environmental (permitting),” he added.
The final project will include a two-lane highway with a center turn lane, with shoulders wide enough so it could be restriped to become a four-lane if needed. The centerpiece will be a 600-foot-long bridge.
“About half the project is the bridge,” Schlachter said. It’s expected to cost about $3 million of a total projected cost of $7 million.
The first construction could begin by the end of the summer, he said, and take 12 to 18 months to complete – opening before the second school semester of the 2014-15 school year.