County Chairman Keith Ellis presided Wednesday over the groundbreaking ceremony for improvements to the notorious intersection of Georgia Highway 81 and Crowell Road in Porterdale, where cars were lined up 10-deep well after rush hour.
One curious local commuter was so thrilled to hear that the intersection would finally be fixed that she reached into her purse for a symbolic donation of $1.78.
“If it goes over $1.8 million, we’ve got a little help!” Ellis joked.
The chairman was joined by Porterdale Mayor Arline Chapman, the county sheriff, Porterdale police chief, Porterdale city council members, county commissioners, Georgia Department of Transportation officials and contractors in hailing the city, county and state cooperation leading up to the “historic day.”
The intersection is currently a four-way stop where commuters can wait up to half an hour just to pass through, leading many to avoid the route altogether. Even ambulances and other first responders have gotten stuck at the intersection, and sometimes the Sheriff’s Office has had to dispatch an officer just to direct traffic.
Ellis said after a new traffic light is installed, the number of vehicles passing through should increase from about 25,000 to 35,000, boosting local businesses and easing congestion.
“This is a Christmas present to the citizens of Newton County,” he said, adding that surrounding counties will also benefit.
Taj Lalani, who owns the Food Mart at the intersection, said he was happy to endure a temporary decline in business while construction is carried out.
“We’ve been waiting for this for eight years; it’s a very very big thing for our business,” he said. “We have customers who have been complaining about it for a long time.”
Mayor Chapman said the intersection has been a “mess” tying up traffic in all directions.
“[The improvements] are long overdue,” she said. “When folks are coming home from work, they don’t want to sit in traffic.”
The work is expected to be completed by January 2016, with the city of Porterdale contributing $300,000 and the county paying $1.5 million from SPLOST money.
Rusty Andrews, a project manager with the Gregory Bridge Company of Eatonton Georgia, which has been contracted to carry out the work, did not foresee any technical challenges going forward.
“It’s a pretty straight forward intersection improvement project,” he said. “It should greatly improve [traffic]…it should speed the travel times through the intersection dramatically.”