By Clay Wilson
Diana McFall said she uses some of the time she spends stuck in traffic on I-75 to catch up on the news on her car radio.
"I take advantage of it. I know I'm going to be there," said the 26-year old Henry County resident. "I don't have anybody in the car to talk to me, so I might as well get informed."
Unfortunately for her, McFall said she sometimes can't avoid the Georgia Department of Transportation's resurfacing project on I-75, even though crews only work at night and on weekends.
She works at Thom Sawyer Transportation, a trucking company in College Park, and sometimes gets caught in the backups as she comes home.
Like any construction projects on the metro area's already clogged arteries, the department's nearly 24-mile resurfacing project in Henry, Butts and Spalding counties affects thousands of drivers besides McFall. Even at off-hour volume, traffic backs up for miles as work crews in one or two lanes force motorists to merge into the still-open lanes.
"That's the longest two miles of my life," McFall said of the distance between the Ga. Highway 20/81 exit and the Jodeco Road exit. She said she sometimes forgets and gets on I-75 between these two exits to return home after a Saturday morning shopping trip to McDonough.
"I kick myself because I should know better by now, but I guess old habits die hard," she said.
Area motorists who have found backroads to avoid the traffic probably will want to use them for a while longer.
According to DOT information, the initial repaving should be completed by the end of December 2003. However, work on the final layer will begin in spring 2004 and is set to be finished by June 30 of that year.
The DOT repaved the top layers of the interstate in the three counties last year. However, according to the department, coring samples taken after the paving was complete revealed deterioration in the road's underlying layers that earlier samples hadn't shown.
The department said it plans to recycle the asphalt that is now being taken up. According to the department's communications division, the DOT is incorporating construction and asphalt-mixing advances that will "increase long-term reliability of the road."
The project is costing just over $22 million, 90 percent of which is coming from federal funds.
DOT District Three spokeswoman Dorothy Daniel said the department has recently implemented changes in the repaving schedule to try and lessen the impact on weekend traffic. She said double lane closures will only be allowed now until 8 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, rather than extending until noon.
"Traffic was just heavier than anticipated," Daniel said. " The impact was just so heavy on weekend traffic that we just felt it was important to change those hours."
The rest of the paving schedule will stay the same, with double lane closures allowed from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. weeknights and single lane closures allowed all weekend from midnight Friday to 5 a.m. Monday.
Helping the DOT to close and reopen the lanes and control traffic flow are off-duty officers with the Henry County Bureau of Police Services. The bureau's Lt. Joe Tammaro said that usually two officers are stationed along each work zone.
Tammaro said officers can volunteer for the "road jobs," as police call the duty. But, he said, the assignment is not as easy as it might seem to passersby.
"It would appear on the surface that it's kind of a real mundane, routine assignment, but that's not the case, because at any given time you never know what might happen," he said.
Tammaro said that lately the department has not seen any serious wrecks related to paving. Last year, however, a person was killed when a vehicle slammed into the back of a stopped tractor-trailer.
But safety issues aside, the annoyance factor is likely to remain as long as the project continues. McFall said she is moving to Locust Grove soon, and is contemplating always taking the state highways there when she leaves work.
"It'd probably be a longer drive," she said, "but at least it'd be traffic-free."