ATLANTA – Georgia DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry discussed the I-85 bridge collapse and speedy replacement, and also addressed other DOT traffic-relief projects, at an Arnall Golden Gregory Real Estate Practice presentation.
A section of I-85 collapsed on March 30, 2017 due to an intense fire that occurred when plastic conduit was set ablaze underneath the span. The resulting closure and replacement of 700 feet of interstate affected 243,000 daily travelers.
But a success story emerged: the rebuilding effort took six weeks instead of the originally-announced 11 weeks. McMurry said that finishing five weeks ahead of schedule saved motorists $27 million in lost time. He also noted that no one was seriously injured in the collapse or rebuilding effort.
“This was a team of partners working for Georgia,” he told the 60 attendees. McMurry praised the first responders who handled public safety; the traffic managers; MARTA (which saw a 12 percent increase in ridership during the highway closure) and the City of Atlanta; the construction contractor, C.W. Matthews Contracting Company; and the public education efforts.
McMurry pointed out that Governor Nathan Deal’s insistence on incentivizing the contractor to work around the clock minimized the time of disruption for motorists.
The state’s speedy declaration of a state of emergency resulted in the federal government quickly committing $10 million in emergency financial aid.
“Folks, that’s unheard of,” McMurry said, explaining that federal assistance typically is about $1 million.
The ceremonial reopening of I-85 occurred on May 18, 2017, with Deal and U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in attendance.
Introducing McMurry to the audience, AGG partner Althea Broughton, co-leader of the Real Estate Practice, said that Georgia’s transportation system is the 10th largest in the U.S. Georgia’s DOT has a $3.6 billion budget and employs nearly 4,000 people.
Discussing current and future DOT projects, McMurry said “Georgia is moving forward in a big way to address mobility.” Total miles driven each day in Georgia is about 330 million, he said.
Mobility improvements include the Northwest Corridor, an $834 million project to build nearly 30 miles of reversible express lanes along I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties; and a $178 million project on I-85 to extend express lanes by 10 miles and build a new interchange in Gwinnett County. Both projects will be completed next year. Express lanes are optional toll lanes that shorten commutes, ease traffic on general purpose lanes and serve bus mass transit.
South of Atlanta, nearly 12 miles of new reversible express lanes on I-75 are “outperforming where we thought we would be at this point,” McMurry said. The biggest project in the pipeline is the $4.2 billion Revive 285, which involves building two new express lanes from I-75 in Cobb County to I-85 near Spaghetti Junction in DeKalb County, a 12-mile stretch. Express lanes also are planned on GA 400 from I-285 to Buford Highway/SR 20 in Forsyth County and along the top side of I-285 to I-20 on the east and west sides.
“People ask me, ‘why express lanes?’ Because you can’t build your way out of congestion,” McMurry said. “This is just one of the innovative tools by which we’re going to manage our way in the future, through express lanes.”
Widening projects are also in the works where they make sense. In September 2017, the DOT will receive bids on a design-build project to widen I-85 to six lanes up to the Braselton exit at SR 53.
The DOT also plans to build dedicated commercial-vehicle lanes from I-475 near Macon to south Henry County on I-75, “the freight corridor of this nation on the East Coast,” where future autonomous trucks could travel, McMurry said. This dedicated northbound thoroughfare, costing $1.8 billion, would be the first of its kind in the U.S., he said.
As for technology, “It’s the wild west in transportation and planning now because no one knows what this future is,” McMurry said. Fiber technology built into the roadways will allow autonomous vehicles to communicate. “We’re very excited about that. That is a game-changer for safety and mobility.”
Throughout the state, the DOT has 11 major mobility projects totaling $11 billion that will be under contract or completed in the next eight-and-a-half years, McMurry said.
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