The Valdosta Daily Times
Drivers frustrated with slow traffic at railroad crossings on the southside, your prayers have been answered — construction on an overpass along West Hill Avenue over the Norfolk Southern line is scheduled to begin in less than three weeks.
The contract has been signed, the City of Valdosta has approved the relocation of underground utilities, and workers will begin mounting detour signs Nov. 27 that will remain in place for the duration of the project, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Officially termed a “grade separation,” the overpass will begin near West Street on U.S. Highway 84 at milepost 10.01 and extend .62 miles nearly to Briggs Street, at milepost 10.63. The highway is proposed to “ramp up” at either side of the railroad crossing with barrier walls, and a 300-foot bridge will extend over the railroad.
Frontage roads will be constructed parallel to U.S. 84 to provide access to local businesses and residences, according to GDOT. The frontage roads will be one lane, one-way travel, with curb, gutter, and sidewalk.
Once construction begins, the $9.7 million project will take between 18 months and two years to complete. The contract will expire Dec. 31, 2014 — the absolute deadline for completion.
Reames and Sons Construction, a Valdosta company, earned the construction contract, and is ready to begin as soon as GDOT gives the green light, and having a local hands-on the project is “a good thing,” according to City Manager Larry Hanson.
“A lot of the time, projects like this are in the hands of out-of-town contractors,” Hanson said. “This company is sensitive to local needs, and they want to minimize disruption. They have already demonstrated they’re going to be good to work with.”
The city approved another contract in their last City Council meeting to move underground utilities before construction begins, a necessary part of the project and “the first thing that needs to be done,” Hanson said. City utilities as well as Georgia Power infrastructure will be routed around the project area.
The DOT hosted a meeting with city officials Thursday morning to discuss the impact of the project on public safety, as it will disrupt routes typically taken by fire and police departments and school systems. But once the project is complete, the overpass should solve major transportation issues and decrease response times for emergency responders to citizens in the area.
“If you live near a railroad crossing, and the fire station is half a mile away across the tracks, if it’s blocked, the station can’t respond,” Hanson said as an example. “If there were a fire, you would have to be serviced by another station farther away.”
The city had to displace a few businesses and purchase right-of-way from others to gain enough space for the overpass, Hanson said. He explained the process of property acquisition is “never easy,” but that “most people understood it was necessary to carry out the project.” He could not say how many businesses were displaced.
During the project, traffic may “slow to a crawl” along detour routes, Hanson said, but there will always be a lane open.
“Sometimes, it will not be pleasant, but the end result will be something that’s good for everybody,” Hanson said.
Establishing the detour routes, which will run south around the project area on neighborhood streets for civilian drivers and south along the loop for commercial tractor-trailers, will shorten the time of the project. Without detours, the project would likely take another year, GDOT Deputy Press Secretary Jill Goldberg said.
“This detour is allowing this project to be completed a year ahead of schedule,” Goldberg said. “We realize there may be an inconvenience, but this detour will shorten a longer inconvenience.”
The DOT had some difficulty beginning the project due to the necessity for a “concurrence” for the project from CSX railroad, Goldberg said. Because the east-west rail lines will abut the borders of the project, GDOT had to get the final OK, or concurrence, from the railway company before construction could begin.
“Because of our work on what we’re doing to make that grade separation for the Norfolk Southern crossing, we’re going to be touching up on the right-of-way for that CSX line,” Goldberg said. “Because we’re going to be touching their property with the work we’re doing, we needed to make sure they signed off on it.”