Progress on the long-awaited extension of Riverwatch Parkway is evident.
Crews have nearly finished clearing large swaths of trees from the rights-of-way along Old Evans and Old Petersburg roads.
When it’s complete, the extension will lengthen Riverwatch Parkway from Baston Road to Washington Road at Towne Center Drive.
“We’ve been waiting 10 or 12 years since it stopped at Baston Road,” Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross said.
The $34.2 million project on a state road is not one the county would fund because those types of projects are usually funded through the Georgia Department of Transportation or the Federal Highway Administration.
The Transportation Investment Act filled the funding gap to get such an expensive and much-needed project underway. The additional one-cent sales tax, also known as TSPLOST, was approved for transportation projects in three of 12 regions in the state in 2012.
“The TSPLOST made the difference in being able to put $20 million out of that ($34 million cost) out of TSPLOST and then supplement it with what (state DOT) had been accumulating over the years,” Cross said.
The extension includes widening Old Petersburg and Old Evans roads to four lanes with medians, bike lanes and sidewalks. The improvements will begin just west of Baston Road to Old Petersburg Road at Old Evans. 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.
Crews are clearing trees and debris from rights-of-way and easements and grinding and removing brush piles. Culvert work is going on near the proposed Washington Road intersection and new sewer lines are being installed near Jamaica Court, said Cissy McNure, a DOT spokeswoman. In the next few months, McNure said crews will begin work on the new bridge over the railroad tracks and moving earth between the tracks and Washington Road.
DOT officials estimate the project to be finished in the spring of 2017.
Local officials have been waiting a long time to see the project underway. Environment work began in 1991.
Cross said the extension will make Columbia County more convenient to the downtown area and make commuting easier for those working downtown or even at Savannah River Site.
“I really think the biggest thing is better traffic flow,” Cross said.
County officials expect that when the extension opens, it will relieve traffic headed east on Washington Road in Martinez toward Richmond County and on some of the heavily-traveled north-south thoroughfares including Hardy-McManus Road, Belair Road and Evans to Locks Road.
“That’s one of the questions we’ve had on the north-south arteries is really how much impact will it have and do we need to go ahead and make more plans to widen any of those or just kind of ride it out and see if the flow patterns change,” Cross said.
Combined with the widening of Washington Road to William Few Parkway, a voter-approved project on the once-cent sales tax list, Cross said he hopes that the extension will provide an easier commute for residents. It will be a four-lane road from the Riverwood area to Evans, where motorists can shoot down another four-lane road all the way downtown.
“That’ll be a big asset,” Cross said.
Cross said he expects the next three years of construction will be worth it in the end. “It’ll work out and everybody will adjust,” Cross said.