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Road work should help ease congestion, officials say

Posted: July 23, 2016 - 11:11pm

Road work at the newly constructed River Watch Parkway extension and Blue Ridge Drive is not expected to impact school traffic at three Columbia County schools, but is instead expected to ease congestion in the area, according to Georgia Department of Transportation officials.

Drivers to and from Lakeside high and middle schools and Blue Ridge Elementary on Blue Ridge Drive can expect no more traffic than normal when students return to school Aug. 8, according to Penny Jackson, the assistant superintendent.

Jackson said that while construction initially caused buses to be rerouted for transporting summer school students, working around construction is something the district has grown accustomed to.

“We just had to follow the detour, it’s very similar to what we are having to do on Robinson Avenue and several other places around the county,” Jackson said. “We are going to have to realize that there could possibly be delays if we don’t leave a little earlier, but we have been dealing with those for quite a few years at various places within the county.”

Crews closed off access to Blue Ridge Drive at the intersection of Old Evans Road last week and reopened it Friday, tying the new $35 million River Watch Parkway extension into Old Petersburg Road.

The detour connected drivers to Blue Ride Drive via Columbia Industrial Boulevard and Evans to Locks Road.

According to a news release from GDOT, the reopening of Blue Ridge Drive will be followed by the closure of Old Evans Road to thru-traffic from south of Blue Ridge Drive. Old Evans Road is expected to reopen July 25.

“When they close (Old Evans Road) off they have to lift that road up and reconstruct that whole area realigning it with Old Petersburg,” said Kyle Collins, a district communications officer for the department.

According to the release, the detour around the Old Evans Road closure includes McCormick Road over to Old Petersburg Road/River Watch Parkway. During the closure, nearby neighborhoods and businesses will still be accessible.

Collins said that before projects are started, the department works to minimize the impact on highly trafficked areas.

“Contract work restrictions on lane closures don’t allow interruptions from 7 to 8:30 a.m. and from 3:30 to 7 p.m. Monday thru Friday,” Collins said, adding that once the Blue Ridge intersection opens back up, the new extension tie-in will ease traffic congestion.

Jackson said that good communication between GDOT officials and school administrators has made dealing with the construction easier to work around.

“They give us good notice,” Jackson said of the department of transportation. “Like in this particular case we knew well before school was out that towards the end of our summer school run we were going to have some issues so we were able to prepare for it ahead of time and it does help having that good relationship with our county.”

And while the road work might serve as an obstacle for now, Jackson said it is a positive sign of progress.

“We remain optimistic because we know that the hardships we are experiencing right now, the grand plan will be to make it that much better for all of us because we are just so congested right now,” Jackson said.

And while construction is not expected to impact back-to-schoolers, Jackson said the first week of school brings its own traffic challenges for Lakeside high and middle schools and Blue Ridge Elementary.

“That first week is always a mess because we are trying to iron out bus routes, number of kids on the buses, as well as the parents driving as opposed to putting their kids on the bus,” Jackson said. “So we tend to have delays anyway that first week, but we just iron them out.”

Jackson added that Lakeside High and middle and Blue Ridge Elementary personnel will be keeping an eye out for any improvements that can be made to ease the flow of traffic.

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