Southside I-75 truck lanes on faster track, DOT delays other big plans

By: - October 18, 2019 8:18 am

A Georgia DOT rendering of the planned I-75 truck lanes along a 40 mile northbound stretch from Macon to McDonough, planned to open in 2028.. Contributed/Georgia DOT

Morning commuters along I-75 from Macon to McDonough are accustomed to weaving in and out of lanes to avoid the frequent blockade of tractor-trailer trucks. 

The erratic traffic pattern not only slows down a commute but also put drivers at risk of colliding with the 18-wheel behemoths. To help relieve the conflict the state plans to build two commercial truck lanes, one of the first in the nation to set aside pavement just for truck drivers.

It’s one spoke in the Georgia Department of Transportation’s $11 billion plan to reduce congestion around metro Atlanta as well as get a handle on ever-increasing truck traffic coming from highways out of Savannah and Macon.

The State Transportation Board took a fresh look at those projects at this week’s meeting to review some recent shifts in construction priorities, including plans to shave a year off the construction schedule for the I-75 truck lanes.

The $1.6 billion Ga. 400 express lanes project is now planned for three years later than originally scheduled, bad news for the hundreds of thousands of commuters who slog along that north suburban Atlanta highway every day. Construction is set to start in 2022 and be finished in 2027.

The new schedule will give developers more time to secure financing for the project that the transportation agency will pay back over the long-term, said engineer Tim Matthews.

Another 2.5 million people are expected to live in Georgia by 2045, and with the expansive Savannah harbor deepening on tap, many more truckloads of goods will soon travel the Peach State’s busiest thoroughfares. 

The state’s roadbuilders are widening I-16 and I-95 as they connect to Savannah and are planning to install 40 miles of truck-only lanes from Macon’s I-475 and I-16 split northward along I-75 into Henry County.

Tractor trailers are expected to account for 40% of vehicles on that stretch of roadway in the coming years. 

“It becomes incumbent on the state to build infrastructure to keep up with (growth),” said Ed Crowell, president of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association. “I think Georgia (leaders) are well aware of that and are getting more specific understanding where to invest and get the most bang for their buck.”

Macon resident Robert Rosenberger drives between Macon and Atlanta several times a week and says the volume of trucks south of McDonough doesn’t bother him much.

The Georgia Tech philosophy professor says he’s been fortunate to be able to mostly set his work schedule around times to avoid driving into or leaving the Atlanta area during rush hour. 

“I would hope the truck lanes eventually would go past McDonough,” he said. “It seems like McDonough is one of the hotspots for traffic.”

The transportation agency announced plans this month to push back the timeline by at least several years for express lanes on metro Atlanta’s congested I-285 and Ga. 400 interchange, which the state had marked as a high priority.

More than 200,000 vehicles travel daily along the northern sections of I-285 and Ga. 400. 

“The designs are complex, the financing is extremely complex,” transportation board chairman Tim Golden said about the revised timetable. “I think we’re being very cautious in how we proceed to make sure we get it right.” 

The new plan is to split the $4 billion I-285 project in half to shrink the massive scale of the job and attract more bidders in hopes of driving total costs down.

Delayed relief for commuters in Atlanta’s northern suburbs means projects in other parts of the state should start earlier than previously planned.

Crews should begin working in 2024 on the I-75 truck lanes and be finished in 2028, a year earlier than DOT planners originally expected.

That construction work is set to start about the same time a massive remake of the I-75 and I-16 interchange in Macon is wrapping up. 

Also coming four years earlier than previously planned is the second phase of an I-85 widening from Hall County into Jackson County. 

The state received more federal funding than expected, so it makes sense to start this two-year venture by 2021 because it’s already been designed, GDOT Chief Engineer Meg Pirkle said at Wednesday’s board meeting.

The DOT plans to widen the interstate from two to three lanes in both directions from I-985 to Ga. 53.

“It’s a very heavy freight corridor,” Pirkle said. “It’s not just busy on (University of Georgia)  football weekends.”

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.