By month's end the state could authorize a county plan to complete the final leg of the Old Alabama Road project.
"I'm hoping we'll have something tentatively lined up and ready to roll by the end of next week," Bartow County Transportation Planner Tom Sills said. "We've got a meeting set up for next Monday to try to nail down the next step forward — it's a meeting with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and the project engineers."
Sills said the county recently received "tentative approval" from GDOT to wrap up the long-postponed transportation project in three phases.
"Basically, we're starting at Rockmart Highway going west of Ryle Creek, and from Ryle Creek to the east of Ward Creek — we've got it broken up at water crossings — and then east of Ward Creek to Paga Mine Road is the third phase," Sills said.
He tabbed the cost of the total project to be well north of $70 million.
"The first phase will be the cheaper one, we're looking at about $22 million for it," he said. "The phase after that, which is involving the airport, is about $27-$28 million and the final phase on Paga Mine Road will be about $24 million."
Although Sills said the county is pursuing state dollars for the project, he didn't discount the possibility the project could receive federal funding as well.
"We're approaching GDOT for state funding as opposed to federal funding on this, simply because it's a little cleaner funding source for us to work with," he said. "But if we need any federal funds, the project is set up to be able to use federal funds."
Although Sills said he didn't have a ballpark estimate for how long the three phases of construction would take, Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson said the project would likely require the better part of a decade to be completed.
"One phase would probably take something like two years would be my guess, since it's going to be under traffic," he said. "It's not the quickest project to build, and when they could program the next couple of phases, that would be up in the hands of GDOT — I would hope they would move along fairly quickly, one after another, or even potentially overlapping some."
The Old Alabama Road project, Olson said, dates back to 1999. The final leg of the project being denied a federal Better Utilizing Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) grant, he said, is just one of many reasons why the last portion of improvements have been delayed for so long.
"During the course of the project, when they negotiated right-of-way they had to get 124 parcels so they had to deal with a lot of property owners — several of those parcels got contentious, some of them went to court, and sometimes they just negotiated and bought a bigger piece of property than they had initially intended at the request of the property owner," he said. "And that led to them having to redo environmental work because they bought parcels that were outside the scope of the original environmental study ... and I think at one point the pavement design changed from asphalt to concrete, so that required some redesign work."
Due to a lack of statewide transportation improvement plan funding, GDOT had pushed the construction bid date for the Old Alabama Road project to the 2024 fiscal year. Under the three-phased plan, however, Olson said the project could receive state funding much sooner.
"Tom tells me they're looking at programming it into fiscal year 2019, which is from this July to next June," he said. "So that would be great if we could get the first phase started."
Once completed, Sills said the project will reduce local freight congestion.
"I expect the impact to be felt considerably along Main Street in downtown Cartersville," he said. "A lot of those trucks will now have another route to get to the interstate instead ... and it will obviously be a way for the folks in Paulding County and areas west of us to be able to get to I-75 as well."
In tandem with several other infrastructure expansion projects in the area, Olson said he expects the completed Old Alabama Road project to create a four-lane commercial corridor along the western half of Cartersville.
"It'll be a part of what I see as the bypass around Cartersville, eventually," he said. "When you've got the 411 connector on the north, Douthit Ferry Road four-laned, Burnt Hickory Road four-laned and Old Alabama Road four-laned, that'll kind of provide an arc around the north, west and south sides of the city for the traffic trying to get around to get to Rome, Rockmart and Cedartown — and it will also facilitate industrial development on that side of the county."