The long, long, long-awaited widening of Highway 144 in South Bryan is currently scheduled to begin in 2015, according to the Georgia DOT. The project, which will cover 4.6 miles from Timber Trail Road east to Belfast River Road, is estimated to cost around $23 million and could be finished in 2018.
News of the planned widening is welcome to Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed.
“It’s certainly been a long time coming,” he said. “I’m tickled to death they’re finally putting a date on it. Of course, they’ve put dates on it before.”
Burnsed said he also was glad to see bike lanes included in the project and the speed limit dropped to 45 mph.
State engineers and local officials met to review the plan Oct. 30 at the Bryan County Administrative Complex. The project calls for four lanes separated by a 20-foot grass median, along with 4-foot-wide bike lanes on each side, according to DOT spokesperson Jill Nagel.
She said the state plans to begin buying right of way in March in a process that could take about a year. Funding for that part of the project is already approved.
The state currently plans to put the project out for bid in March 2015 and once the contract is awarded and work begins, it will take about 30 months to complete.
Funding for construction is in the proposed state transportation improvement plan for fiscal 2014-17 and is awaiting approval, Nagel said, noting 80 percent of the funding for the project is federal. The remaining 20 percent is from state coffers.
While completion of the project is likely at least three years away, that’s a shorter span than the seven-plus years that have passed since the DOT held a public information meeting in October 2006 on the widening at Richmond Hill City Hall.
At that time, work was estimated to be complete by 2011, but a combination of funding problems and the recession kept the project from becoming reality, despite the county’s rapid growth in the south end, which continued unabated.
The DOT’s most recent average daily traffic count on 144 in the area to be widened is 13,660, according to Nagel.
The widening is just the latest in a series of projects to try and ease congestion on the heavily traveled highway in South Bryan.
A light at Timber Trail and 144 is expected to be erected early next year while a dedicated right turn lane at 144 and 17 is also in the works.
Last year, the county scratched up about $2.2 million to finish Harris Trail Extension, giving South Bryan motorists an alternate to 144. That project was complete in December and will come in handy once work begins on 144.
While the widening project will make commutes easier and safer for motorists who drive 144 daily, it’s also expected to make for an easier evacuation in the event on an emergency and provide a shot in the arm to the county’s economic development.
“Anything that helps move that traffic on Highway 144 is going to do well for all the citizens of Bryan County,” Burnsed said.