I-85 Interchange

Public hearing scheduled Nov. 21

by Sarah Fay Campbell

A public hearing on plans for the Poplar Road interchange on Interstate 85 has been scheduled for Nov. 21, which is considered a major milestone for the long-awaited project.

"We set a very aggressive schedule for that public hearing — and we've made it," transportation consultant King Evans told the Coweta County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. "We never dreamed we were going to have a public hearing this year, and we're going to have it in November," Evans said. "I don't know of any project I've worked on that has gone any smoother than this one has."

The hearing is on the draft environmental document as well as the plans for the project. It will be held Nov. 21 at Central Educational Center, located on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Newnan, from 4-7 p.m.

Coweta County got approval of the draft environmental document for the project on Oct. 1, said Tod Handley, Coweta's transportation and engineering director. The interchange will receive federal funding, which means the project must go through the long and detailed federal process.

It was important to get the public hearing held before Thanksgiving. Otherwise, it would have been pushed into January, Handley said.

After the public hearing, comments will have to be incorporated into the environmental document. The project also has to go through preliminary field plan review, and then final approval of the design.

Hopes are to begin acquiring right-of-way for the project late next summer, with the project being let for construction in January 2016. Construction is expected to take two years.

Evans wanted to "salute" the ladies at the Federal Highway Administration who have been working on the project. FHWA had made some minor comments and "just as we are sending her the stuff, the government shuts down," Evans said. The workers took the information home with them and "at 2 the next afternoon we had" the approval of the next steps. "That thing could have easily gotten lost in that whole muddle," Evans said. "They took care of us and did a great job. That's one of the reasons, along with Tod and my guys, that we are where we are."

— Handley also gave an update on the plans for the Southeastern Bypass Extension and intersection improvement at Ga. Hwy. 16 East, U.S. 29 South and Pine Road. The bypass extension, from Turkey Creek Road to Hwy. 16, and the intersection improvement are being treated as one project, which will also include some widening of U.S. 29 at Interstate 85.

They are currently working on right-of-way. There are 25 parcels that need to be acquired, and "seven have been signed for," Handley said. "We are in negotiations now with most of the remaining property owners."

"We're going to be moving very soon to a final field plan review," Handley said, and are hoping to have the project out for bid in May 2014. Reaching that date will require right-of-way to be certified by March. Construction is estimated to take 18 to 24 months.

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