Fayette gets good news on I-85/Hwy. 74 interchange

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Proposed improvements to the I-85/Ga. Highway 74 interchange have gotten approval from the Federal Highway Administration to move forward, county officials announced last week.

“We have jumped through a lot of hoops and overcome a lot of obstacles to make this project happen,” said Fayette County Board of Commissioners chairman Steve Brown, who reportedly began a multijurisdictional effort a decade ago to pursue the changes.

The desire was to implement a “partial cloverleaf” design, which engineers from all jurisdictions said was the best long-term option because of projected reduction in traffic congestion as well as safety and even from an economic development standpoint. But it was also the most expensive option.

The Georgia Department of Transportation planned initially to approve a “divergent diamond” design, which local leaders debated forcefully. Brown cited state Rep. Matt Ramsey and Tyrone Mayor Eric Dial as two officials who went to bat for what was seen as the better option.

Engineering and right-of-way funds have been secured, according to county officials, and construction funds will be secured once the right-of-way is acquired.

Here is an excerpt from a Sept. 24 letter from Rodney Barry, division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration, to state DOT commissioner Keith Golden:

“We have reviewed the revised Interchange Modification Report for I-85 at SR-74/Senoia Road, in Fairburn, Fulton County. The referenced project proposes the construction of a partial clover interchange: A two-lane loop off-ramp in the southwest quadrant of the interchange, serving traffic existing from southbound I-85 to eastbound SR-74, and a one-loop off-ramp in the northwest quadrant of the interchange, serving traffic exiting from northbound I-85 to westbound SR-74.

“Based on operations and engineering review, the proposed modifications are acceptable. This approval is subject to reevaluation if significant changes occur in the final design or if the construction is delayed.”

In 2003 Brown was sitting in traffic on the interchange bridge, which is in Fulton County, when he decided to try to get a coalition of local governments to lobby for the changes. At the time he was mayor of Peachtree City, and while several local governments from Fayette, Coweta and Fulton counties signed a memorandum of understanding in 2004 expressing a desire for the improvements, Brown lost his bid for re-election in Peachtree City in 2005 and the effort saw little or no movement for a few years.

After becoming a county commissioner in 2011, Brown picked up where he left off. The Board of Commissioners passed a resolution supporting the project, which was something neither of the previous two administrations had done.

“It was a ‘Twilight Zone’ moment as I was back to pulling that interchange project, but I was the only elected official still around from the previous effort back in 2004,” Brown said. “Troy Besseche, a city engineer, was the only staff member still around, except he was working for Fairburn instead of Peachtree City where he worked previously.”