Route 133 project ending environmental phase

3 12 2008

Susan McCord | Albany Herald

ALBANY — State funds may still be scarce for widening State Route 133 to four lanes from Albany to Valdosta, but the environmental phase of the project is nearly complete.

Guests at Georgia Department of Transportation open house events Tuesday in Albany, Doerun and Moultrie viewed aerial maps of the project’s 32-mile route from Albany to Moultrie, learned more about right-of-way acquisition and examined results of an environmental study required by federal law.

Wetlands are common throughout the project and there is one federally protected endangered species, the Coulley’s Meadow Rue, a plant found primarily on a power line right-of-way and on lands owned by the Nature Conservancy along the route, said Ron Johnson, a biologist with Aecom, which conducted the study.

The environmental document is “essentially done,” said Johnson, who also surveyed for animals possibly impacted by the project, such as the gopher tortoise, and found none.

Plans displayed Tuesday showed Highway 133 enlarged to four lanes, with a 44-foot grass median along most of the route from Albany to Moultrie. The road deviates from the current route in five places between the two cities, including a new bypass that skirts the northern city limits of Doerun. The speed limit will be 65 mph where the median is 32 feet or wider.

DOT recently held similar meetings on the Moultrie to Valdosta section of the project, said Manager Michael Haithcock, who has been involved since its 2001 start.

Though the environmental document must be cleared by federal officials before construction can start, the entire corridor lacks state funding, Haithcock said.

While preliminary engineering for the project has been funded, right-of-way acquisition and construction never has.

“We’ll have a better idea in about a year,” he said. “We want to be ready, so if we do get the funding, these projects are ready to go.”

DOT and most state agencies have announced large budget shortfalls and cuts this year, and public estimates of the project’s cost has ranged from $300 million to $1.3 billion.

“I would love to see it happen,” said Haithcock. “The thing I like about this corridor is that we’ve gotten a tremendous amount of public support.”

Recently retired state Transportation Board member Billy Langdale was always a “big supporter” of the corridor project, he said, and Langdale is “one of the greatest Americans I’ve ever met in my life.”

The project bypasses Doerun to the north, an idea that gained favor with residents once they learned the entire town qualified for the National Historic Register, said Larry Cook, project manager with Hatch Mott MacDonald, which did surveying, design and bridge design for DOT.

The corridor spans 9.1 miles in Dougherty County, 10.6 miles in Worth County and 13.3 miles in Colquitt County.

But the open house was bittersweet for Dougherty residents Eddie and Marjorie Cox, whose brick home for 30 years is one of several in the way of the widening road.

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