Drivers heading northbound and southbound on Interstate 85 in Jackson County will experience lane closures between exits 129 and 137 as construction for Phase 2 of the I-85 widening project begins.
The Big Picture
On Oct. 19, construction activity for the project began around 9 p.m. with an asphalt paving operation, according to a Georgia Department of Transportation press release shared on the Jefferson Fire Department’s Facebook page.
The project will increase the 6.7-mile-long corridor of I-85 between State Route 53 and just north of U.S. Highway 129 in Jackson County by widening the road from two lanes to three on both sides. The Georgia DOT expects the completed project will add highway capacity for over 100,000 vehicles.
Besides widening the lanes, the plan also calls for the replacement of the guardrail and seven bridges. They will be replacing one overpass bridge, as well as the two bridges over Walnut Creek, the two over CSX Railroad, and the two over Middle Oconee River.
How Loud Is Loud Enough?
The Georgia DOT is evaluating the noise levels in the area to determine if noise barriers will be needed to protect residents from the sounds of the interstate. Noise barriers absorb traffic and construction sounds to help minimize noise impact for residents.
April Fortenberry said she can hear the noise from the interstate all through her house and yard and is hopeful for a noise barrier.
“I can hear every truck pass from my bedroom,” Fortenberry said.
Fortenberry had previously sent Georgia DOT an email about the sound levels that came from Phase 1 of the project. She was told that she would be able to vote for a sound barrier as a part of Phase 2, but has not heard from the department since.
What The People Want
I asked local Jackson County residents what they thought about the construction in a Jackson County Facebook group. While most of the respondents agreed that the construction would be inconvenient, they believed that it would greatly improve congestion.
One resident, Bill Harris, even went so far as to commend the Georgia DOT by saying that “the state is actually getting this done ahead of the major need for it.”
Many of the respondents said they wanted a new exit on the stretch of road in question at U.S. Highway 60. They said they believed an exit there would be much more convenient for people in the area and cause less traffic at surrounding intersections.
Phase 2 begins after the substantial completion of Phase 1 in July 2020. Georgia DOT said the project will be delivered four years ahead of original schedule and should be completed in 2023.
Kate Hester is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
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