City, county team up to make improvements to College Drive/Walnut Avenue intersection
By MITCH TALLEY:
Whitfield County Director of Communications
Getting to college still requires the same dedication and determination as always.
But leaving college – at least in a vehicle – will be much easier when students begin the fall semester at Dalton State College in August.
Anyone who has traveled south on College Drive knows how difficult it can sometimes be to make a left turn onto Walnut Avenue and head east, but construction is underway on a project that city and county officials believe will deliver much-awaited relief to those motorists.
When work is completed by August, College Drive will have been moved farther to the west by 240 feet, and Westbridge, the road that goes to Red Lobster, will also have been moved westward 50 feet. That way, the two streets will line up and a traffic signal can be installed to regulate traffic flow.
“If you’re familiar with College Drive, you know it comes out right beside the southbound exit ramp for I-75 and there’s a stop sign for College Drive,” Whitfield County Engineer Kent Benson said. “The vast majority of people are turning left onto Walnut Avenue, either to go back into town or to get on the interstate.”
Once motorists have made that left turn, though, there’s room for just two or three cars in the storage lane on Walnut Avenue before they have to stop for the signal at the exit ramp. At peak times, that backs up traffic on College Drive well past Zaxby’s as vehicles have to wait to turn left.
“Then you’ve got people that get impatient and they’ll get in the right lane on College Drive, turn right onto Dug Gap Mountain Road, and then zigzag over into Westbridge and make a U-turn and get over in the right lane on Walnut,” Benson said. “That’s a dangerous situation.”
Once completed, however, College Drive will have four lanes at the intersection – one for right turns up Dug Gap Mountain Road, one to go straight onto Westbridge, and two 170 feet long for left turns.
The new intersection should cut down on the number of T-bone crashes at College Drive, according to Dalton Assistant Public Works Director Andrew Parker.
“We have a tremendous number of right-angle crashes there, which by nature are the most serious type of crashes that you can have,” he said. “Really at this moment, there’s just not any better way to deal with it than the striping configuration that we have. But this project will hopefully bring a final resolution to that and be a whole lot safer for folks.”
Dalton and Whitfield County have been working on a final resolution to the traffic problem there for years. In fact, the state offered to pay for a roundabout that would have included the southbound I-75 exit ramp, if the city and county paid up to $1.2 million for relocation of utilities.
“We essentially had a final design for the roundabout, but then the federal stormwater rules changed,” Dalton Assistant Public Works Director Andrew Parker said. “We got word from GDOT (Georgia Department of Transportation) that they were anticipating $2 million worth of redesign costs that wouldn’t have been finished until 2018, and then the construction estimate was another $5 million on top of that.”
A new, much less expensive option soon popped up, however, when the Chamber of Commerce moved downtown, allowing demolition of its old building on College Drive.
The city and county resumed control of the project, which will now cost $2.4 million, with $1.8 million coming from long-allotted funds in the 2007 T-SPLOST and the other $600,000 from the state.
“Our contract wound up being a little bit higher than what we had estimated because the retaining walls turned out to be more expensive to make sure the shoring was sufficient,” Parker said. “The good news is that Roger Williams, our representative on the state transportation board, helped secure an additional $600,000 from the state which helped offset a lot of that additional increase. So we can’t say thanks enough to Mr. Williams from the city and county for that because we would have been trying to hunt for some more money.”
Crews have been busy since Jan. 10 working on the first stage of construction, clearing the land and building a 150-foot-long, double-barrel culvert that will divert creek waters underneath the new section of College Drive. The next step will be to build four retaining walls – one along Bojangle’s frontage, one above the culvert outlet end, and two along Westbridge.
The contract with C.W. Mathews requires the contractor to have the new road open to traffic and the signal operational by the start of fall semester at Dalton State College in August.
“So we’re going to be able to deliver this project for significantly less money than the roundabout would have been,” Parker said.
Another part of the project is sidewalks along the new section of College Drive, Benson said, assuring residents who walk or jog along what’s known to locals as “the Loop” that it will still be a continuous circular route along Walnut, College, and Tibbs.
Since the work is being done outside of existing roadways, there shouldn’t be any major traffic delays caused by construction. When the new roads are tied in to the existing roads at the end of the project, the contract calls for that work to be done at night – and quickly, making inconvenience to daytime drivers as minimal as possible.
“We can build all the new parts of the roads outside of traffic, folks can continue to utilize the old roads just like they were, and then when we get ready to tie it in, we’ll do that at night and then motorists will come in the next couple of mornings and they’ll be able to utilize the new road,” Parker said.
Once the new roads are being used, final dressing, cleanup, and demolition of the old pavement will be done in September and October.
Parker said college officials are excited about the project.
“They had staff members at our pre-construction meeting,” Parker said, “and we’ve tried to keep them involved throughout the process because it’s kind of a joint community project. It’s in the city, but the county’s involved because it’s got the 2007 T-SPLOST money. And then we get the college involved because it’s impacting their students and faculty and visitors more than anybody.”
Parker admits it’s a challenging location. “Ideally we’d have more space in between those two intersections, but we’ve got the mountain that’s kind of trapping us in there. We can’t really go further west because the walls are already very expensive. Can you imagine if we went 20 feet or 100 feet further? It would get to the point where the cost benefit ratio for this project just wouldn’t be there. So what we’ve tried to do is create a balance between what’s a reasonable amount of money to realize the significant benefits like we’re hoping for, and we feel like we’ve reached it with this concept and design.”
One more benefit is that the project was able to save the waterfall that was visible from the board room of the old Chamber building.
“One thing we’re really excited about is preserving that waterfall,” Parker said, “so if you’re in the right turn lane coming out of College Drive, we think you’ll be able to see it from your car. But even if not, we think we’ll be able to retain some parking area there so you can actually get out of your car and see it a lot better than you could before. Of course, people using the sidewalks will be able to see it, too.”