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No more closings for now

By Michael Davis

Steven Meyer can't wait for road construction near his store to wrap up.

Every afternoon, he said, construction crews closed the outside lanes of U.S. Highway 19/41 and backed up traffic affecting his business.

Meyer, the manager of the Dollar General that just opened along the northbound side of Highway 19/41, said that people heading south don't want to sit in traffic on both sides of the road to get to his store.

"If people have to sit in that traffic, they don't want to go down there (to the break in concrete median), do a U-turn and sit in that traffic again," Meyer said.

All the road construction there along Highway 19/41 in Hampton though "will benefit us a lot when it's all over," he said.

Sunday night, crews finished the part of the job that caused them to close the lanes on the highway, said Georgia Department of Transportation construction manager Craig Sewell.

The lane closures allowed crews to move dirt across Highway 19/41 during the night from an area near Atlanta Motor Speedway to the east side of the highway, laying the groundwork for a bridge that will span the highway just south of AMS.

"They started that June 1 and went to Aug. 1," said Sewell.

Crews also did another stint of earth-moving from the middle of September until Sunday.

"We had to stop traffic flow and it was just easier to stop two lanes instead of four," Sewell said.

He said that over time, about 750,000 cubic yards of dirt was moved. But that part of the project is complete and he said there will be no more lane closures until crews are ready to set the beams of the bridge some time in the spring or summer of next year.

A twofold project termed the "Hampton Bypass," the construction consists of re-routing Ga. Highway 20 from the Towaliga River to connect with Richard Petty Boulevard and make it a four-lane highway all the way to Interstate 75 in McDonough.

Now that lane-closures on Highway 19/41 are wrapped up, John Meyers, director of operations at Atlanta Motor Speedway, said that construction would have no impact on race traffic the weekend of Oct. 26.

But since construction barrels may still be by the side of the road, people may tend to drive a little slower, he said.

"You know how people are when they see red barrels on the road, but there shouldn't be anything there to slow them down," he said.

And when construction is finished in the fall of 2005, the new four-lane Highway 20 will allow race fans easy access to I-75 without having to wind through the two-lane roads in Hampton.

"It allows us another four-lane road much closer than we had before," said Meyers.

"It will give (race fans) another opportunity to get on a main road and get out to Interstate 75," he said.

Hampton City Manager Bob Zellner said the bypass would be great for city.

"It will relieve all the congestion we have here on race day," he said.

As the new Highway 20 is being built through what was once undeveloped farm-land, Zellner said the impact on the city has been minimal so far, and could be great for business later.

"There will be some commercial businesses developed along the highway," he said, referring to some parcels of land that has already been rezoned to commercial property. In the future, hotels, restaurants and other businesses are likely to spring up along the route, he said.