Board of Commissioners discusses new interchange

By Monroe Roark Times Correspondent

A number of officials in the county have agreed that traffic is heavy enough to warrant additional access to I-75 for motorists.

The Henry County Board of Commissioners recently ap-proved the submission to the Georgia Department of Transportation of a feasibility study for a possible new interchange between Exit 216 (Hwy. 155) and Exit 212 (Bill Gardner Parkway).

The study was funded by the latest county SPLOST and was also approved by the city of McDonough, which is where the affected portion of I-75 is located.

According to the presentation given to the commissioners, Exit 216 has the worst congestion of the three interchanges serving McDonough (the third is Exit 218 at Hwy. 20/81).

The study did not select an actual definite spot for an interchange but looked at a few options based on standard guidelines such as spacing. Typically a minimum of one mile between interchanges is required in urban areas and an overall average of two miles between them. In this regard, having four miles between exits 212 and 216 is a good thing, giving officials some room to work when selecting a location, and while the area around Exit 216 has long been considered more rural, it is rapidly moving toward being classified as urban.

“The need [for a new interchange] is apparent when looking at existing traffic,” said one spokesman.

Ultimately the study focused on a two-mile stretch between exits 212 and 216, showing various possibilities near the industrial corridor that dominates that area. It was mentioned more than once that Norfolk Southern railroad would have to be considered in any plan.

One possibility that has been considered over the years is Bethlehem Road, which already crosses I-75 just north of Locust Grove. However, the study concluded that it was not the best option because existing traffic would not migrate in that direction (farther south from the industrial area) and an interchange there would actually spur more development that would result in increased traffic.

The study also looked at environmental constraints and the possible impact on local churches and flood zones.

The next steps in the process involve a review by the state DOT and the Atlanta Regional Commission, and if the study is approved there could be a request for interchange access. At some point this would also involve the federal government since I-75 is part of the federal highway system.

While any actual development of a new interchange is years away, the commissioners quickly saw the positive side should it happen.

Commissioner Brian Preston noted that keeping industrial traffic off Hwy. 42 and Hwy. 155 would be a big plus for other local motorists.

“It would be nice if we had the infrastructure to move that traffic back onto the interstate and keep it going,” he said. “This would improve things from a quality of life standpoint as well as economically.”

Chairman Tommy Smith echoed Preston’s comments.

“What got me on board was when we started looking at ways to get 18-wheelers off our streets,” he said, adding that since federal approval would be necessary eventually it would be nice to get some federal funding as well.

The vote to send the study to the state DOT was unanimous.