Local and state officials took the first step Wednesday in one of Columbia County’s most anticipated road-improvement projects.
Georgia Department of Transportation officials and those from Columbia and Richmond counties gathered on an empty lot on Old Evans Road to “turn some dirt” at the groundbreaking ceremony for the extension of River Watch Parkway.
“This has been a long time coming,” said DOT engineer Jimmy Smith.
Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said the extension of River Watch Parkway from Baston Road to Towne Center Drive at Washington Road has been planned for about 15 years, long before he took office.
Cross said the hold-up on the project was always centered around getting the appropriate funding.
The $34 million project was paid for through the Transportation Investment Act, the additional one-cent sales tax designated just for transportation projects. The tax, also known as T-SPLOST, was approved in three of 12 regions in the state in 2012.
“It is doubtful that we would have had the money to push this project ahead the way that we have with the TIA funds,” Smith said.
Cross said he attends regular meetings in other regions and has heard how all others are watching the CSRA and other regions that did pass the TSPLOST.
“It’s been said that there’s a lot of lamenting that, ‘We couldn’t see far enough ahead to see what this could bring to the communities,’” Cross said. “And they are really in regret.”
Cross said an additional blessing in the TSPLOST is that 25 percent of the funds collected go to the county officials for the transportation projects of their choice.
“It’s so important in our rigorous SPLOST referendum that will come up later this year,” Cross said. “We’ve been able to eliminate most of the transportation needs and concentrate more on quality of life with parks and other areas around the county to present to the voters because of the discretionary funds in the TSPLOST.”
The River Watch Park-way extension includes widening Old Petersburg and Old Evans roads to four lanes with medians, bike lanes and sidewalks. The impsorvements will begin just west of Baston Road to Old Petersburg Road at Old Evans Road. The widened road will continue along Old Evans Road, including a bridge over the railroad tracks near Columbia Industrial Boulevard. It will tie into Washington Road at Towne Center Drive.
DOT officials estimate the project will be finished in the spring of 2017.
‘‘It’s all about connectivity,’’ Cross said. ‘‘And for our region to pass the TSPLOST is a great thing to keep our community connected. Really, business, residents and investment are going to communities that have the best transportation infrastructure. Passage of the TSPLOST here in our community ensures that in our future.
“This is a great investment in our community.”