Talk about a mixed blessing: Columbia County officials now say badly needed traffic improvements on Washington Road in Evans could come sooner than expected. But the project carries with it a potentially steep price if businesses are cut off from their customers as a result.
The Georgia Department of Transportation, which oversees Washington Road, has shifted funding from a couple of other local projects - the bus system in Augusta, and other improvements further east on Washington Road - to make the congested, dangerous Evans area a priority. Its about time.
The extra $750,000 in funding will speed up the improvements by at least a year, with design work set to begin in 2003. Columbia County will immediately start pushing on it as soon as we see the preliminary design because we feel its a very important project, says Ronnie Hutto, a county pre-construction engineer and former DOT engineer.
Even before those upgrades begin, the county is forging ahead with plans to improve the stretch of Washington Road from Belair Road to Ronald Reagan Drive. Reconfiguring the road mostly within its existing width, the county - with the DOTs blessing - will soon create a badly needed center-turn lane for the roads busiest portion.
Currently, much of the congestion in that are comes from drivers forced to block a lane of traffic to make a left turn. The resulting accidents frequently snarl traffic even further. A turn lane will free up the through-lanes, easing traffic jams and making it safer for motorists crossing oncoming traffic.
Motorists and merchants, however, had better enjoy the easier access while they can. When the DOT completes its study, it will call for a raised concrete median dividing Washington Road all the way out to Halali Farm Road. Access across the median, similar to the barrier further up Washington Road at the Richmond County line, will be restricted with cuts a minimum of 660 feet apart.
Those median strips help prevent accidents, but they also cut off access to driveways. Baston Road and Washington Road businesses already are feeling the pinch from the just-completed DOT project there; Evans merchants may take the next hit.
A far better cure for accidents is common sense and patience, but the DOT cant mandate those qualities for drivers. Instead, merchants may be force-fed a strip of concrete that makes it easier for motorists to pass them by.
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