By Joel Hall
Over the next three years, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) will undertake a $46.4 million project intended to ease the gridlock on Highway 54 and prepare the city of Morrow for future growth.
Starting this weekend, GDOT will begin major work expanding the Interstate 75 interchange in Morrow.
According to Rick Parham, a spokesperson for GDOT, the massive overhaul will completely change the face of I-75 exit 233. The project, already in motion, includes an expansion of the I-75 bridge in Morrow from five lanes to eight, the creation of a Lee Street bridge over the Interstate, and a wider I-75 with added high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes.
"We have over 60,000 cars a day going over that bridge and about 120,000 going under it on the Interstate," said Parham. "That is going to all go up in the next 20 years, so we are trying to think ahead."
Parham said traffic engineers predict that by 2027, traffic around the I-75 interchange will increase 33 percent. Between now and Aug. 31, 2001 -- the project's expected date of completion -- the bridge spanning I-75 in Morrow will be widened to have three northbound lanes, three southbound lanes, and one independent exit lane on each side.
Interstate 75 near exit 233 also will experience changes, including a 32-foot widening of the interstate on both sides. The extra space will accommodate HOV lanes as well a lengthened southbound off-ramp to accommodate a smoother transition into the flow of traffic for motorists heading south from Highway. 54.
While grading and clearing for the project started in mid-September, beginning this weekend, GDOT will temporarily push traffic on I-75 two lanes inward on each side, so work crews can begin building the outer walls of the expanded bridge. The expansion also will include work on the I-75 bridge which passes over Meadowbrook Lane.
John Lampl, Morrow city manager, said the expansion has economic potential for his city. In addition to relieving traffic, a new bridge connecting what is now South Lee Street over the Interstate to Barton Road will give Morrow something it has never had -- access to the Southlake Festival Shopping Center without having to travel on Highway 54.
Lampl believes the road improvement may inject new life into the struggling shopping complex.
"It's a very difficult shopping center to get into," said Lampl. "It has [been] since it was built, but this would change. Right now, turning left [from Highway 54 to Southlake Parkway] is prohibited, but with the new improvements, that would be changed as well.
"We've been working to get this project for over 25 years," Lampl continued. "It's been a long time coming. This should significantly help our current traffic conditions."
While the gains for Morrow will be great, there will be some "short term pain" in the process of the expansion, according to Parham. At the peak of construction, motorist will encounter up to 60 workers, 40 pieces of equipment, and two large construction cranes setting bridge beams. Lane shifts and closings are expected to take place intermediately on both I-75 and Highway 54 to accommodate the construction.
Parham, however, said the changes will be worth the wait.
"That's just a growing area down there," said Parham. "A lot more traffic is envisioned for that corridor, so we are trying to get ahead of it. When we get it done, people should be able to see a great improvement."