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Tight squeeze on Highway 54

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Starting today, the bridge over the Interstate 75 interchange, in Morrow, will become a little smaller, so it can eventually become a lot larger.

From now until the fall of 2011, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) will be working on the $46.4 million project to expand the Highway 54 bridge from five lanes -- to eight.

"The lane shift takes effect Friday morning," said Rich Parham, GDOT community relations spokesman. "We're going to install some temporary barriers, and that will give us about 10 feet of working space.

"They will be working on that bridge constantly, now until the fall of 2011," Parham continued. "For the next two or three years, motorists are going to have to drive carefully through that intersection."

In order to make changes, the bridge's five, 12-foot-wide lanes, will be narrowed to 10-foot-wide lanes on the side of Jonesboro Road near the Welcome Center, but opposite the Norfolk Southern rail line.

Parham said 60,000 vehicles travel across the bridge daily, and about 120,000 vehicles pass under the bridge on the interstate. By 2027, that traffic is expected to increase by 33 percent, he said.

The new bridge will have Interstate access from separate turn lanes, closed-circuit television systems installed to monitor traffic flow, and high-mast lighting on both sides of the bridge to make the exit more appealing to travelers.

John Lampl, city manager of Morrow, said the city has been preparing its public safety services for the expected congestion, by building a new fire station on Mt. Zion Road -- away from the congestion of the bridge. He said despite the temporary inconvenience, the bridge expansion is good news for the city.

"We still have the same amount of lanes," said Lampl. "It just makes it a little tighter and you have to pay attention a little more. It's after the holidays, so it's a good time to do this. I think that this is going to be well orchestrated."

Lampl said the project, which will eventually provide a Lee Street bridge over the Interstate, a new railroad bridge, and off-highway access to the Southlake Festival shopping center, will attract more businesses to the area.

"The lights that they will put on the interchange, will make it a well-lit interchange, which should attract some business," he said. "When this is all over, we'll have a beautiful interchange and we'll have much better traffic overflows."

Parham said motorists along the bridge "won't have as much wiggle room, or margin for error" until the expansion is complete. However, he said it will be worth the wait.

"It will be a nice looking bridge," he said. "Hopefully, when the project is finished, they will have much better access."

For more information about the project, visit www.dot.ga.gov.