The Georgia Department of Transportation gave local city and county officials crucial updates on two important McDuffie County projects last week.
DOT District Rep. Jimmy Lester promised the city of Thomson funds in response to its approximately $950,000 Transportation Enhancement grant application submitted several months ago, and preliminary plans have been made for the widening of Georgia Hwy. 17 near Thomson, which includes construction of an east by-pass.
"We are proposing to take off of Hwy. 17 there south of Thomson in the vicinity of the Sweetwater Park area, going around Thomson on the east side, crossing over I-20, then joining back with Hwy. 17 at Knox Rivers Road," said DOT District Preconstruction Engineer David Griffin.
The by-pass will be a part of a massive statewide project along Hwy. 17, which will expand the road to four lanes -- two in each direction -- with a grass median in the middle.
Mr. Griffin said DOT is shooting for the local section of the road to be completed in 2010, with construction to begin in late 2006 or early 2007.
Local officials are pleased with the plans, which they say could go a long way to help alleviate some of the problems in the downtown area which is partially caused by large truck traffic.
"It'll certainly free up some congestion down there with the larger trucks coming down the middle of town," said McDuffie County Road Department Director Chris Pelly. "You're also going to get the weight off the road, and you're going to get the excess traffic off it. It's going to help with the maintenance of the road."
Thomson City Administrator Bob Flanders said that while decreasing downtown truck traffic will help to revitalize the downtown area, it's going to take more to start establishing new businesses.
"I think it's going to take more than the eastern by-pass," he said. "It's also going to take some reeducation of driving and truckers once the thing is put in. (The by-pass) would have the benefit of allowing easier pedestrian access into and out of our central business core. That's one of the things we're interested in, and that's one of the reasons we're filing for the TE grant. We're trying to enhance the entire area."
Any money received from the TE grant will be used to refurbish downtown Thomson, anything from fixing sidewalks to replacing street lights. And the prospect of receiving funds from the application was given a boost last week by DOT officials.
"I think you've got a good project here, and I pledge at least some money for it," said Mr. Lester.
He went on to say that DOT is still waiting to see how much federal money it will receive, and that number will determine how much will be earmarked for Thomson. The final grant decision will be made in May.
Thomson Mayor Bob Knox said that the plans to revitalize downtown Thomson will go on no matter how much the city receives from the TE grant.
"For years we've tried to do things to our downtown area ... but we haven't had the money to stop those trucks from getting hung up on those intersections. We do need some help with that, and we could use some extra dollars to do some additional streetscape work down there. We're going to go on whether we receive this money or not, but it would certainly help us."