Work crews are currently rehabilitating an old interchange on Interstate 75 just south of Calhoun.
No big news there, right?
Well, upon closer inspection, that fairly routine road work appears to signal the beginning of what is destined to be just the first part of a major new road project in north-central Georgia, designed to lighten traffic congestion in the area and help move local commerce more efficiently.
The interchange rehab contract, worth more than $16 million, will include the installation of a new four-lane bridge over the interstate, as well as wider on and off ramps.
The updated interchange is at the intersection of I-75 and Union Grove Road in southern Gordon County, just a few miles south of Calhoun at Exit 309. The interstate connects Chattanooga, Tenn., in the north with Atlanta, Ga., to the south.
Although the Union Grove Road project is not labeled as such, the work is really the first section of the proposed South Calhoun Bypass project, according to Matt Rutledge, project manager of Sunbelt Structures Inc., a general contracting firm based in Tucker, Ga.
That larger project will not begin until at least 2015, but when finished will connect two ends of nearby Georgia Highway 53 south of Calhoun. Highway 53 approaches Calhoun from Rome to the southwest, before turning east away from Calhoun. The approximately $29.5 million bypass will be 6.8 mi. (10.9 km) in length and will utilize the new Union Grove Road/I-75 interchange.
Project Should Ease Congestion
Rutledge's firm is building the new interchange at Union Grove Road largely to handle an increasing amount of truck traffic in the area. Due to a new, 1.4 million-sq. ft. (130,064 sq m) Lowe's Distribution Center in nearby Rome, Tenn., as well as a thriving carpet industry in Calhoun, truck traffic has made wider roads a necessity in the area. In particular Rutledge said, trucks need wider access points in and around the interstate.
“We are extending the on and off ramps to handle the increased capacity and that means we will have ramps that are over a half-mile long,” Rutledge said. “Calhoun is such a huge hub for the carpet industry and rehabbing Union Grove Road will go a long way to alleviating that congestion.
“In addition, this new Lowe's warehouse is a tremendous facility, possibly Lowe's largest distribution facility, and they are really just starting to ramp up the work there, so over the next few years it is going to continue to grow at a huge pace. This road work needs to get done to help alleviate the traffic problem on Highway 53.”
Work Continues Despite Rain
Rutledge and his company began work on the Union Grove Road/I-75 interchange in July 2012 and are scheduled to have the project finished by October 2014.
Mother Nature, however, has done its best to upset that timetable.
“North Georgia just experienced a very, very wet spring and summer,” Rutledge said. “It has been a rough year for everybody around here and it absolutely slowed us down. We were not able to move earth the way we should have been able to move it in a typical Georgia summer.”
He added that his crews had about 350,000 cu. yds. (267,594.2 cu m) of material to place on this job and despite the weather, they have been able to do about 70 percent of that work through a Herculean effort.
“I have to commend my guys for that,” Rutledge said. “We have some good people working here.”
Project Is Sunbelt Structures' Show
Sunbelt Structures is performing the lion's share of the work itself, which includes all the grading work, the underground utilities and the concrete work, which includes about 100,000 sq. yds. (83,612.7 sq m) of concrete paving on the roads.
Rutledge said that his company doesn't usually self-perform the majority of the work on its projects, but because there was so much concrete paving to do on this project, they had little need for other firms to help. His firm doesn't do asphalt paving, though, which is a large part of most state road contracts.
The tiny amount of asphalt work done, he said, is a 3 in. (7.6 cm) layer under the ramps that is required by the federal government. It is being applied by a subcontractor.
Updated Bridge, Updated Roads
Rutledge said the main work on the interchange has been in replacing the old two-lane bridge that carries Union Grove Road over I-75. His crews are currently in the process of finishing the first half of the bridge and when that is completed, they will shift two-lane traffic onto the new half, before demolishing the old bridge.
Sunbelt Structures brought in a subcontractor to help set the bridge beams before resuming work on getting that half of the span ready for vehicle traffic.
When the second half of the bridge is finished and joined onto the first half, which will happen sometime next year, four lanes of traffic will travel across the interstate.
The new span will pass more than six lanes of interstate traffic, as well as two wide outside shoulders and a grass median. Rutledge said the new bridge will be about 110 ft. (33.5 m) long and approximately 50 ft. (15.2 m) wide. The bridge deck will be about 4.5 ft. (1.4 m) higher than the old bridge, he said.
While that work is going on, crews are also working on widening and reshaping Union Grove Road itself. Work is progressing on turning the two-lane road into a four-lane parkway as far as three-quarters of a mile both east and west of the new bridge. Near the interstate on ramps, as many as eight lanes will be built to accommodate turn lanes and any future development, Rutledge said. In addition, two new intersections are being built on either side of the interstate where Union Grove Road meets a pair of county roads.
A Caterpillar-Built Project
Between 30 and 50 workers can be found at the job site, Rutledge said, using a variety of Caterpillar equipment that his firm owns itself. He said a mixture of articulated off-road dump trucks, as well as scrapers, are currently being employed on the project.
“There are a lot of machines operating on site right now,” Rutledge said. “We are always burning diesel fuel.”
Rutledge said that his job has been made easier by the satellite-based machine control systems used by Caterpillar in its newer earthmoving equipment.
“With about 100,000 square yards of concrete paving to do, we use a system called AccuGrade, which is a fine grade for motorgraders and it is pretty impressive to see in action,” Rutledge said. “The technology is so cool to and has done so much for our industry as far as being more precise in our grading.”
With hoped-for good weather next spring and summer, Rutledge sees no reason why his crews will not finish the Union Grove Road/I-75 project by his target date of next fall so that area traffic — and commerce — will continue to move along congestion free.