Originally slated to be a three-year project, efforts to reconstruct several bridges along U.S. 41 are now expected to continue until February 2020.
The project to rebuild the interchange at U.S. 41 and U.S. 411, which also includes the reconstruction of the bridges along Joe Frank Harris Parkway over the CSX line and the reconstruction of the bridges over Pettit Creek, began in 2014. According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, the project is almost 50 percent complete.
"They were hoping it would be a much shorter process than that, but we have a lot of limestone underneath the road that forms caverns, and they've found themselves in one of those caverns on Tennessee Street," said Bartow County Transportation Planner Tom Sills. "It's a $57 million project, overall, from design to construction. It's all federal transportation dollars."
There is no timetable in place for when each bridge will be completed, but Sills said the cloverleaf reconstruction will be finished first.
"Environmentally, they've got to deal with Pettit Creek stuff, and the railroad, they've got it ready to go because the railroad was charging them for delaying the trains through that route," he said.
At this point, Sills said he does not expect any project cost overruns. He laid out a tentative schedule of the construction progress anticipated by year's end.
"You'll have a traffic shift here at Pettit Creek and you'll be continuing with the traffic shifts that take place over 61," he said. "They weren't telling me today that they expect the temporary bridges and such to be ready over the railroad by that point in time, but you'll definitely see a jog in the traffic getting across Pettit Creek."
The temporary bridges over Tennessee Street will remain in place this summer, but Sills said he does expect some significant work to be completed before 2019 on the new permanent bridges that will eventually replace them.
"They're now working pretty extensively on getting the temporary bridge put in at Pettit Creek, and they hope to have that in place by mid-summer. There will be a traffic shift that takes place when that bridge is ready to allow them to get in and do the work on the permanent bridges," Sills said. "Those railroad bridges, you've seen them working on those already. Those are not as far along, apparently, as they are on the Pettit Creek bridge."
Sills said there will be no road closures while work on the bridges continue. The project, he said, is ultimately more of a maintenance issue than one about roadway capacity.
"It will ease the traffic flow off 41 over to 75, making it a little more clearly understood what the maneuvers need to be," he said. "I think it's mainly just recognizing the volumes and increasing the capacity of the roadways to deal with it — we're talking about six bridges that needed some work done on them anyway, so I don't necessarily think they're doing a lot to increase capacity, they're probably just making the bridges safer to travel across."
The projects will have an especially pronounced impact on commuters traveling west-to-east from 411.
"For years and years, when people were driving from 411, they'd hit the overpass there and they'd come in and hit 41," he said. "I had two ramps right here, side by side, within 75 feet of each other. If I hit the first ramp exit under the old alignment, I'd find myself back on the road going north. It was causing a great deal of frustration, and freight movers were having a cow trying to get to Atlanta from Alabama."
The project, Sills said, is meant to address the "conflicts" that emerge from U.S. 41, U.S. 411 and GA 61 all coming to a head at one location.
"What they've basically done is spread it out a little bit," he said. "They've made some dedicated lanes to minimize the confusion ... that's why Market Place Boulevard, State Route 20, got completely realigned in this location. It used to be out this way to get to the interstate, now you're going this way around Walmart to get to the interstate."
Built strictly for functionality, Sills said not to expect the completed bridges to resemble works of modern art.
"You've seen one Jersey barrier, you've seen them all," he said. "There's no artistic design going on with those things."