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Newton County to receive $26M transportation stimulus money
Money will pay for 142/278 and Salem/Spring intersections
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After not receiving any stimulus transportation money earlier this year, Newton County and Covington have had around $26 million of promised money pour in over the past few months.

The majority, nearly $17.5 million, was allocated in August for the long awaited widening of the intersection of Ga. Highway 142 and U.S. Highway 278, County Engineer Kevin Walter said. Much of this money had already been set aside by the Georgia Department of Transportation and Newton County, but with the past couple years’ budget crises the project was in jeopardy.

Stimulus money will pay for the entire $17.5 million price tag, which will not only cover the previous gap, but will allow both the state and county to use their allocated money for different projects. Walter said the county had about $4.5 million, which originally came from the Atlanta Regional Commission, invested in the project and will now be able to tackle some other projects in the future.

"We have a bunch of projects we’d like to build with that money anyway," Walter said. "This is a good example of stimulus money in action. It’s bailing out the state of Georgia, for a project they should have been able to pay for, but couldn’t because of financial problems."

Walter said the widening project was identified as a top county priority several years ago because of the rapid growth in that area.

"It’s hard to remember, but there was nothing up there even five years ago and now look at the all the stuff being built up there. When the economy improves there will be 10 times as much built up there," he said.

The project is expected to be bid out by GDOT in November and will consist of resurfacing and widening the Ga. 142 and U.S. 278 intersection and surrounding area, GDOT Assistant Area Engineer Robert Moon said previously. Ga. 142, from the Wendy’s south past 278 down to the entrance of Ingles, and U.S. 278, from Mamie’s Kitchen west beyond the old Wal-Mart, will both be widened to a total of four lanes and will have medians and turning lanes added. Moon said the project is expected to take up to 24 months to complete.

In addition, City Manager Steve Horton said previously that Covington is going to be receiving around $3 million in stimulus money to cover the cost of moving existing city utility infrastructure at the intersection, including water and gas pipes and electrical equipment.

Walter said that the project will improve the county’s roads and provide a local economic boost.

"It’s a win-win for everybody. Hopefully some local company will win the bid and put local people to work," he said.

Although the Ga. 142, U.S. 278 project is by far the larges, several smaller road projects are also being covered by stimulus money. On Tuesday, the Governor’s Office announced nearly $5 million in funding for four projects.

A little more than $2 million will be provided for the regular resurfacing of the other portion of Ga. 142, the section that runs south from U.S. 278 to the Jasper County line. According to the GDOT Web site, the pavement has been deteriorating, and the road was last resurfaced in 1988.

Exactly $1.5 million will be provided for the upgrading of Industrial Blvd., from the Industrial Drive intersection to U.S. 278. This money was allocated to Newton County in June from the ARC, but county didn’t decide to spend it on Industrial Blvd. until August, Walter said.

He said this project was chosen because Industrial Blvd. is becoming more and more used by industries located on the road and by drivers seeking a route around Wal-Mart to get to the exit 93 interchange. He said C.R. Bard and other industries have been mentioning future plans to expand.

"Right now it works fine, but we know it won’t work as more there is more development and traffic at the interchange at exit 93," he said.

Walter said the county would like to spend around $4 million on the road, but with the $1.5 million it has it will be able to add a middle, turn-only lane on part of the road, build an underground drainage system, install some sidewalks and curbing and resurface the road.

"Existing businesses are fairly close to the road and the drainage is not great in the ditches. There are no pipes, the road is in need of resurfacing, there are no curbs – it’s just not an urban road," he said. "These major improvements to the road should last for at least five to 10 years."

This project is expected to be bid out in spring 2010.

A little more than $1 million is being set aside for improvements to the intersection of Spring and Salem roads. Walter said a traffic signal at the intersection has long been needed, because left turns off of Salem Road have been causing congestion and accidents.

In addition, according to the GDOT Web site, Salem Road will be widened 6 feet symmetrically to provide a north bound left turn lane, Spring Road will be relocated 80 feet north and reconstructed to provide one lane west bound and left and right-turn lanes east bound. This project was supposed to have been bid out Friday.

The final project is the roundabout planned for the intersection of Turner Lake Road and Clark Street. Stimulus money is covering the entire $900,000 price tag, with $250,000 of that being covered on behalf of the county, coming from its June ARC allocation. He said the county and city have made it a priority to plan together and work together to secure local funding.

The ARC agreed to fund the entire cost because they are supportive of roundabouts as a means to improve traffic flow, Walter said.

The roundabout is being constructed because a lot of accidents occur at the intersection when drivers try to turn left onto Clark Street, Horton said previously. Because roundabouts don’t allow for pedestrian crossings, an underground pedestrian tunnel will also be built.

With GDOT’s latest $331 million in stimulus allocations, it has now given out most of the original $932 million it started out with.