Locust Grove votes to submit Bethlehem Road interchange for federal funding

The proposed Bethlehem Road interchange off Interstate 75 will be considered for federal transportation funding after all, despite recent split votes by the Henry County commissioners that blocked the project. The Locust Grove city council unanimously voted this week to submit a request for funding to Georgia DOT and the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC).

The proposed interstate exit would be constructed on a new alignment of Bethlehem Road south of the existing roadway. It’s been estimated that fifty percent of truck traffic on highway 155 and twenty percent of all vehicle traffic on Bill Gardner Parkway would divert to the new exit if built.

Henry County commissioners voted 3-3 on two separate occasions in the last month to exclude the project from their request for federal transportation funding during ARC’s ongoing call for projects. That decision did not sit well with council members who included the following in their resolution:

The Henry County Board of Commissioners failed in the efforts to properly execute the will of voters in SPLOST IV to spend all the necessary allotted amounts to perform the necessary Preliminary Engineering steps to advance the project to construction as well as the requirement to place the project on an approved TIP;

Locust Grove city council October 7, 2019

The request will now be considered among other submissions from local governments across metro Atlanta to receive federal transportation funding. The city committed $2,000,000 in local funding towards the interchange in this week’s resolution to cover the twenty percent local match requirements on federal funding.

If the federal funds are awarded, Moving Henry Forward estimates there are seven to ten years of work left before the new interstate exit may open. Remaining steps include preliminary engineering and environmental impact studies, right of way acquisition, and construction.

Bethlehem Road interchange a “critical piece” in the I-75 commercial vehicle lanes project

The new exit has been estimated to cost $40 to $50 million dollars for all project phases. The city will seek federal and state funding to complete what they describe as “essential for the long-term mobility concerns within the southern portion of Henry County, the city of Locust Grove, and a critical piece in the Georgia Department of Transportation(GDOT)’s project to construct the I-75 commercial vehicle lanes as part of the Major Mobility Investment Program (MMIP) efforts.”

It seems appropriate that Locust Grove would vote to submit a funding request for the interchange only a few hours after Georgia DOT announced the I-75 commercial vehicle lanes project will break ground and open to traffic on an accelerated timeline. The commercial vehicle lanes are expected to terminate at a dedicated tie-in to the Bethlehem Road interchange if the exit is built.

State officials cited the port of Savannah expansion project in their decision to accelerate the truck only lanes. The port of Savannah announced plans last month to double their annual container capacity by year 2030 and recently broke ground on the last phase of the Savannah River dredging, to be completed by 2022. Projects like the I-75 commercial vehicle lanes and Bethlehem Road interchange will prove instrumental in moving the anticipated increase in freight traffic within Georgia.

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