DALTON, Ga. — Endangered bats have put the brakes on a $57 million reconstruction of the Rocky Face interchange at Interstate 75 and U.S. 41.
Some erosion control and utility relocation work is under way. Come Oct. 16, when Indiana, gray and other bats have stopped foraging in the forest, heavy equipment will get in gear and trees will start coming down along the highway right of way.
Once started, construction won't finish until June 2016 at the accident-prone interchange. Southbound tractor-trailers have a tendency to overturn on the tight cloverleaf off-ramp.
"It certainly needs to be done," said Bob Brooker, owner of Brooker Ford Lincoln on nearby Shugart Road. "It's a dangerous, dangerous place."
"The big concern is that's going to be a three-year project," he said. "We'll have to work through it."
Brooker says customers will keep coming to his Ford and Lincoln dealership partly because of other businesses nearby that will act as a draw: Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Academy Sports + Outdoors.
The work will include replacing four bridges on I-75: The northbound and southbound bridges over Mill Creek as well as those over U.S. 41.
"They are going to be doing it in stages," Georgia Department of Transportation construction project manager C.J. Cumbee said. Workers likely will tackle one bridge at a time, he said, and they'll build the new bridges one lane at a time.
All lanes on I-75 will stay open during peak hours of 6:30-8 a.m. and 3-7 p.m., Cumbee said. One lane may be closed outside those hours, he said.
"If we have to close down more than one lane, we will do it at night," Cumbee said.
The project also calls for installing a new off-ramp for southbound traffic.
"When you're going southbound on Interstate 75, you're going to have a dedicated off-ramp that will take you northbound on U.S. 41," Cumbee said.
"When you go past it, you'll hit [a southbound] ramp, and it will take you south on 41."
The project will reconfigure the southbound cloverleaf to make it safer, he said, including building a new wall alongside it.
"There's going to be a wall up on the outside of that loop to prevent cars from flipping over," Cumbee said.
The northbound I-75 configuration essentially will stay the same, he said.
The project will include building a median down the center of Chattanooga Road, which is one of the names for U.S. 41, also known as the North Dalton Bypass, U.S. 76 and state Route 3.
"This will streamline the traffic flow," Georgia Department of Transportation area engineer Devon Brooks said.
The proposed median concerns business owners.
"Nobody in this area likes it," said Jack Sharp, manager of Mr. Biscuit restaurant.
The median may discourage eastbound traffic from turning north into Mr. Biscuit's parking lot, Sharp said, especially if drivers have to travel all the way to a traffic light to turn.
Kelly Patel, owner of Nizzie's Package Store next to Mr. Biscuit, also worries about the median.
"I don't think it's a good idea," she said. "We're going to lose business."
Brooks said, "You're going to find getting around the intersection will be easier than it is now."
The road's heavy traffic already deters drivers from cutting across lanes, she said, and controlling it with a median and timed traffic lights should make navigating easier.
Brooks compared it to nearby Walnut Avenue, which got a median several years ago.
"I think that they'll be pleasantly surprised like they were on Walnut," she said. "Walnut has only gotten more restaurants."
The Georgia Department of Transportation awarded the construction project on Jan. 18 to C.W. Matthews Contracting Co. Inc. of Marietta, Ga., which was the low bidder at $33.6 million.
Also competing were G.P.'s Enterprises Inc. of Auburn, Ga., which bid $36.6 million, and Wright Bros. Construction Co. Inc. of Charleston, Tenn., which bid $43.9 million.
The $33.6 million construction bid plus engineering and rights-of-way acquisitions will bring the total project cost to about $57 million, transportation project manager Peter Emmanuel told the Dalton Daily Citizen.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.