On one stretch of road that serves as a merging point for Georgia State Route 316 and Interstate 85 South, in Lawrenceville, GA — the county seat for the sprawling Gwinnett County — the daily scene, at any given time, often resembles the final laps of a NASCAR race.
Roughly 260,000 cars per day constantly fight for pole position on this main artery in and out of Atlanta, forcing drivers to merge into the left lane of traffic when merging onto I-85 south toward Atlanta, from state Route 316 West in Lawrenceville.
Some make it with no problems; others don’t, which makes this interchange one of the most dangerous in the Metro Atlanta area.
In February, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) broke ground on the I-85 and SR 316 Interchange Reconstruction and HOV (high occupancy vehicle) Lane Extension — one of the largest and most expensive construction projects in Georgia history.
Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony in February, Gov. Sonny Perdue expressed the collective thought on how serious the problems are at the current interchange.
“Like the circulatory system, we need to keep the blood flowing to the heart,” Perdue said. “There is now blockage to the system, and we need to perform a bypass. We will not allow traffic to choke this area or the state.”
The $147.4-million by-pass project — awarded, jointly, to APAC Southeast and Atlanta-based C.W. Matthews — will add 13 new bridges, including two new fly-over bridges at 316 and I-85 and 17 mi. (27 km) of HOV lanes along I-85 north and southbound and SR 316 east and westbound.
Not unlike SR 316’s interchange predecessor at the intersection of I-85 and I-285 — also known as the traffic heavy “Spaghetti Junction” — the new fly-over bridges will allow drivers to safely merge in and out of the Lawrenceville area without the need to be a Richard Petty or a Tony Stewart.
Presently, when drivers begin to merge onto I-85 from SR 316, the three entrance lanes integrate into one lane, propelling the drivers into the fastest lane of traffic, where they often have to exceed the posted speed limit to avoid hitting another driver.
Even worse, drivers who need to exit at busy Pleasant Hill Road — the first exit on I-85 exit after the merge from 316 — have to cross four lanes of traffic in a matter of seconds to exit on the right.
With the new fly-over bridges, drivers will merge directly into Pleasant Hill Road from 316 without needing to connect to I-85 directly.
The remaining left hand merge lane, from SR 316 to I-85 south, will become an HOV lane that feeds into an the HOV lane on I-85.
New collector distributor lanes — 11 mi. (18 km) added along I-85 north and southbound and 316 east and westbound — similar to interstate access roads, will tie into the existing system, allowing drivers a way to travel short distances along the corridor, without having to actually access the interstate.
Once the reconstruction is complete, crews also will resurface approximately 6 mi. (10 km) along I-85 between the interchanges at Steve Reynolds Boulevard and Old Peachtree Road.
Under the joint management of C.W. Matthews and APAC Southeast, North Carolina’s Cheoah Construction began clearing and grubbing the area in February, and Alabama’s Russo Corporation also began digging holes, pouring concrete and creating caisson casings for the substructure of the two fly-over bridges at the end of April.
These 10 ft. (3 m) by 40 ft. (12 m) casings will help support the 1,161 ft. long (354 m) inside fly-over bridge from 316 westbound to I-85 southbound, as well as the outside fly-over bridge from SR 316 westbound to Pleasant Hill Road, at 2,602 ft. (793 m) in length.
Helping to support the bridgework, workers from Atlanta-based Anatek Inc. (a subsidiary of Anasteel Inc.) continue to roll rebar for the steel underground support for the fly-over bridge from 316 westbound to I-85, after laying the underground support for the bridge to Pleasant Hill Road.
According to Peter Feininger, senior vice president of C.W. Matthews and working as the project manager of the joint venture between C.W. Matthews, APAC and GDOT, 8 percent of the contracted work — clearing, grading and installation of storm drain — for the project is complete.
Though ahead of schedule, there is plenty of work left before the 2008 deadline, including building 23 retaining walls, laying 350,000 tons (317,500 t) of asphalt, laying 54,000 linear ft. (16,500 m) of storm drain pipe, installing 33 new overhead signs, installing 55,000 linear ft. (16,800 m) of guardrail and 45,000 linear ft. (13,700 m) of concrete barrier walls.
GDOT Spokesperson Teri Pope estimated that total asphalt — both new and recycled — used on the project will total 351,100 tons (318,500 t).
I Can’t Drive 55
Swimming pools and vacations will soon be on the mind of many residents in the Atlanta Metro area, who travel the 316/I-85 corridor, and traffic is the major concern for both drivers and construction workers.
Within the coming weeks, the speed limits around the corridor area will change from 55 mph to 45 mph, and for Atlanta drivers who are used to cruising more than the posted speed limit, this could prove to be an issue.
“We want to maintain safety at all times,” said Pope.
GDOT reported that most of the work will be done outside of the lanes of traffic, overnight or on weekends. If needed, single-lane closures will take place during daytime “off-peak” travel times and multiple-lane closures will occur overnight or on weekends. Only overnight lane closures will be allowed from Thanksgiving to New Years Day.
Luckily, for University of Georgia fans — SR 316 is the main thoroughfare from Atlanta to Athens — during football season, no multiple lane closures will be allowed.
“Keeping the lanes open on 316 during football season was a big concern,” said Pope. “Highway 316 is the main road for those going to the UGA home games in Athens, and we want to assure fans that they won’t be stuck in gridlock while construction continues.”
Detours will be in place to accommodate any closures, and with the lower speed limit, drivers will have a chance to see the Link-Belt LS 248, LS 218 and LS 138 crawler cranes, rising into the skyline.
Helping to move an estimated 1 million cu. yds. (765,000 cu m) of dirt, the joint venture of C.W. Matthews/APAC is using several Cat D5, D6 and D8 dozers, Cat and Komatsu excavators, Cat 740 articulating rear dump trucks and three Volvo articulating rear dump trucks — all owned by C.W. Matthews and purchased from Yancey Brothers and Atlantic Southern Equipment.
With crews working around the clock, seven days a week, the project is moving ahead of the anticipated schedule, with rock drilling and blasting having been scheduled for the first week of May.
As an added incentive, the contractors could earn up to $2 million extra if the project is completed ahead of the scheduled completion date.
Pope and Feininger agreed that both GDOT and the joint efforts of C.W. Matthews, APAC and its subcontractors are beginning on a positive note.
“This is the first joint venture project in District One that covers Northeast Georgia so we didn’t know what to expect,” Pope said. “From DOT’s point of view, the project is going extremely well. We are ahead of schedule. We have at least weekly coordination meetings with the lead contractors and are literally in constant communication with them. We are all working to get this project finished early, weather permitting of course.”
Fresh from a successful history of building projects such as Hartsfield-Jackson Airport’s fifth runway, and the building of Midtown Atlanta’s 17th Street Bridge, for C.W. Matthews and APAC, the joint venture project at SR 316/I-85, is proving to be a pinnacle for both contractors.
“This was the largest Georgia DOT project ever let and we are very excited to be a part of this high profile project,” said Feininger.
“We have an excellent DOT staff on this project and very competent group of subcontractors, who have melded together rapidly to form an excellent team.” CEG