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Work continuing on Hartsfield fifth runway

By Justin Reedy

Work is progressing quickly on the fifth runway at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport now that a road in northern Clayton County in the path of the runway has been shut down.

About two weeks ago, county officials allowed the closing of a portion of Sullivan Road to make way for the runway project after working out a deal regarding land in a redevelopment area near the airport.

Sullivan Road runs northwest from Ga. Highway 85, crosses Interstate 285, and connects to Riverdale Road north of the interstate. Since a large portion of the road lies in the path of the fifth runway, airport officials plan to reroute the road on the south side of I-285, and have it connect to Riverdale Road across from Phoenix Boulevard. Construction on that project is scheduled to begin on April 28, with a preliminary version of the new road set to open Dec. 1.

The portion of the road that has been closed down runs from Southridge Parkway, south of the interstate, to Riverdale Road on the north side of I-285. Travelers have been detoured around the area on Clark Howell Highway and Airport Loop Road.

Airport officials said the road needed to be closed this spring for the runway construction project to continue on schedule, and though the original deadline for closing the road wasn't met, the construction project isn't running behind. That's mostly due to the airport working with government entities and private contractors to facilitate the closing of Sullivan Road, according to Yolanda Clark, assistant manager of public relations for Hartsfield.

"This was completely a collaborative effort between the airport, Clayton County, the city of Atlanta and the contractors," said Clark. "We have been working quickly and aggressively since the road closure."

The road had to be closed to allow a dirt conveyor system used in constructing the massive runway embankment to be shifted to the east, airport officials said, as well as to allow work to begin on the runway and taxiway bridge that will cross I-285 near the old Sullivan Road.

If the road had not been closed by Clayton County in time, the airport n which is owned by the city of Atlanta n could have owed millions in penalty fees to contractors working on the project. Instead, the runway and road construction projects are moving forward at a fast pace, Clark said.

"The managers tell me we're on target to meet our deadlines," she said. "The project is going like clockwork, and that's really because of that collaborative effort."

Some local officials and residents were concerned that the estimated 6,000 vehicles a day crossing the now-closed portion of Sullivan Road could cause problems by being detoured onto other area roads. But transportation officials took steps to accommodate the extra vehicles by redesigning Sullivan Road's intersections with Derrick Jones Road and Clark Howell Highway south of I-285.

"The changes at Derrick Jones Road are really helping with the detour," Clark said.

And the middle of the three lanes of Sullivan Road at the intersection with Clark Howell Highway was changed from a right-turn-only lane to one allowing right or left turns onto Clark Howell, according to Traffic Engineer Jeff Metarko with the Clayton County Transportation and Development Department. That will give people coming back down Sullivan Road after forgetting about the road closure easier access to the detour, Metarko explained, as well as any other vehicles going from Sullivan Road northbound onto Clark Howell.

So far, the detour has been going very well, Metarko said, and seems to have been well received in the community.

"We've been monitoring it, and modifying the timing along the detour route as necessary," he explained.

"We have not had the first complaint," added Wayne Patterson, director of the county Transportation and Development Department.

The fifth runway at Hartsfield is being called "the most important runway in America" by airport General Manager Ben DeCosta, who says the project is vital to reducing delays in Atlanta and across the country's airport system. The $1.284 billion runway is slated for completion in May 2006, and is part of the airport's $5.4 billion expansion master plan.