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Though the recent drought has been a horrible experience for local farmers and gardening enthusiasts, the dry, warm weather has resulted in excellent conditions for roadway improvements - a number of which are currently going on in Newton County or are scheduled to begin in the coming months.

A $55.7 million Georgia Department of Transportation Interstate 20 interchange reconstruction project at Ga. Highway 142 and Alcovy Road is scheduled to begin in the coming months, according to a GDOT press release. The project will encompass 2.6 miles of construction from I-20 and Ga. Highway 402 west of Alcovy Road to Ga. Highway 142 and will include bridge improvements and lane widening. The anticipated completion date of the project is spring 2009.

"I think that intersection is now outdated," said Newton County Chairman Aaron Varner of the project. "Anything we can get to improve our access to I-20 is certainly a plus."

A 12.8-mile resurfacing and shoulder reconstruction project for Ga. Highway 11 from the Jasper County line to the Walton County line will begin this month and is expected to be completed at the end of November. The project is funded by GDOT and costs $2.8 million.

There is also 6.42 miles of resurfacing of various city streets in Covington, Oxford, Porterdale, Mansfield, Newborn and various county roads scheduled to take place this summer at a cost of $486,415 to GDOT. The project is expected to be completed by the end of May 2008.

Joint projects

Newton County is jointly funding several road improvement projects with GDOT and has stepped up a dialogue with the department - which recently announced a $7.7 billion shortfall at the end of 2006 - to ensure that Newton County projects continue to receive attention and funding from the state.

"The county had to take a more aggressive hand in these projects because they were lingering," Varner said. "That's why you see joint projects between county and state."

Engineering is currently taking place at Salem Road and Old Salem Road by URS Corporation for a project to realign the intersection by reopening a closed lane and providing a left turn lane on northbound Salem Road. The project will also upgrade traffic signals and slightly widen Salem Road at the intersection. The county is funding the engineering of the project. GDOT has agreed to fund the addition of turn lanes at the intersection Varner said.

Plans to purchase the right of way for an $800,000 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax project to add traffic signals and turn lanes at Smith Store Road and Salem Road have been approved said Varner. This project is receiving some funding from GDOT.

Short term plans to alleviate traffic congestion at the intersection of Brown Bridge Road, Ga. Highway 20 and Ga. Highway 212 are underway with plans for a contract to be let out later this summer said Varner. As part of the short term fix a temporary traffic signal will be added at the intersection of Ga. Highway 20 and Ga. Highway 212.

Long term plans for the intersection include extending the Brown Bridge Road and Ga. Highway 212 connector around the new Home Depot store, creating a cul-de-sac as well as adding turn lanes and traffic signals. Varner said the BOC would be presented with design plans for the necessary ROW by URS Corporation shortly. Home Depot has said it would donate ROW and construction materials to the project.

Construction work is underway on a $920,000 project funded by SPLOST to realign the intersection of Dearing Street and Covington Bypass 600 feet to the west, away from railway tracks. The project will add turn lanes and traffic signals at the intersection.

This summer at Flat Rock Road and Rocky Point Road the county will be testing out a new road resurfacing treatment which uses a special aggregate for coating. The treatment is expected to extend the life of the road by 10 years at 50 percent of the cost of conventional resurfacing said Varner.

"Not all roads will be able to utilize this system but we are going to try to evaluate the performance of it," Varner said.

A safety audit review by Street Smarts of a three way intersection at Marble Drive, Oxford Road and Cook Road is also expected to take place soon said Varner, adding that the BOC would be presented with a task order for the review in the next month.

The intersection recently became the center of a firestorm of public debate this past winter when Lafarge Aggregates petitioned the BOC for a conditional use permit to build a second asphalt plant on their property near the intersection. Residents of Oxford decried the plan, saying the intersection was already dangerous enough without the addition of more large trucks coming to and from Marble Drive.

"I think its something that's needed to be done as it becomes more and more congested," said Varner of the intersection. "We need to find a way to make it safe."

ROW plans are complete for a $700,000 SPLOST project to replace the Hightower Trail Bridge. Varner said negotiation will begin soon for the purchase of the necessary ROW for the project.

Another SPLOST project to replace the deck of Alcovy Ridge has been bidded out. Varner said he expects the BOC to award the contract in July with construction set to begin in August.

Completed earlier this year was a $200,000 project funded by SPLOST to add traffic signals at Elks Club Road and U.S. Highway 278.

All total the county is expected to have spent $4.17 million in SPLOST funding on road improvement projects throughout the county this year.

Salem Road

While Newton County has secured a letter of commitment from GDOT, allowing the county to transfer nearly $19 million in GDOT funding from other county road projects - put on hold by the department's funding shortfall - to the Salem Road widening project, Rockdale County has of yet come up with a funding source for its half of the project.

According to Varner, who attended a meeting in Atlanta last week with GDOT Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl and members of the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners, GDOT remains concerned that the project will create a traffic bottleneck if the Newton County part goes forward as scheduled while the Rockdale County half remains unfunded.

Varner said Rockdale County knows that it also needs to follow suit and find a way to fund its half of the Salem Road widening.

"What came out of that meeting is they agreed to continue to look for funding sources," Varner said. "Rockdale acknowledges that the projects have got to go parallel."

As a result of the GDOT shortfall, $30.4 million intended for the purchase of ROW to widen Salem Road from two to four lanes between Brown Bridge Road and Old Salem Road was delayed until 2011.

After deciding that the widening of Salem Road - which is already one of the most busiest through fares in the county and is only getting more congested by the day - could not be postponed yet again, the BOC elected to shift funding from three other county road projects which had monies attached to them for the purchase of ROW, but not for construction.

Those projects are a U.S. Highway 278 road widening from the Covington Bypass to Ga. 142, and two projects to improve Ga. Highway 212 from Bethany Road to Oak Hill Road.

The county must still come up with the remaining $10 million for ROW purchasing but Varner said he expected the purchase of ROW to go on as originally scheduled in 2009.