Funds short, so state pushes Hwy. 74 /I-85 interchange relief to 2021

Funds short, so state pushes Hwy. 74 /I-85 interchange relief to 2021

A recent letter from the Ga. Department of Transportation (DOT) has given the indication that the interchange project at Interstate 85 and Ga. Highway 74 might be pushed back to a later date. Whether that occurs or not remains to be seen.

Above, Fayette County Commission Chairman Eric Maxwell (L) and Vice Chairman Randy Ognio (R). File photos.

It was at the May 10 meeting of the Fayette County Commission that Commissioner Randy Ognio, who sits on the county’s Transportation Committee, referenced a May 8 meeting and a May 4 letter to Fairburn from DOT pertaining to the planned I-85 interchange at Ga. Highway 74. While the interchange project is composed of several counties and municipalities, Fairburn received the letter since the interchange is located in that jurisdiction.

Fairburn contacted Fayette about the meeting, which resulted in Ognio, Chairman Eric Maxwell and other elected officials attending.

Referring to the letter, Ognio said the letter caps the interchange project. The letter states that the latest right-of-way acquisition estimate of $30.1 million exceeds the total programmed right-of-way estimate of $16.69 million, leaving Fairburn, the program sponsor, responsible for providing an additional $13.47 million. The total cost of the project is $58.2 million, including approximately $41.5 million in construction costs.

“We expected to hear that this would be delayed for many years. But (the DOT representative) said he had an idea and he would work on that idea to get the right-of-way to move forward, but that would still leave a shortfall in the construction process and he would need help with that,” said Ognio.

If the right-of-way acquisition could move forward, it still takes two and a half years to complete that portion of the process, meaning it would be 2021 before the project would be ready for construction, Ognio said.

Ognio said the problem with the right-of-way estimate came due to insufficient expectations on the setback space needed for ramps, resulting in additional property needed for the project.

DOT said the county would be contacted about the potential for proceeding with right-of-way acquisition.

“(DOT) seemed to be willing to work through this and knows the importance of this,” Ognio said. “I don’t know where we go, even if we get the right-of-way.”

The construction portion of the funding would still need help, Ognio explained.

“I hope we can stay on the 2021 schedule and not get pushed back any further,” he said.

Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown during a commission meeting. File photo.
Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown during a commission meeting. File photo.

Weighing in on the issue, Commissioner Steve Brown said, “This is beyond tragic what they’re doing to us. I’m not blaming any of the (Fayette County) elected officials. We’ve done everything we can do to get this project going. They are screwing us.”

Commissioner Charles Rousseau suggested that, since the meeting just occurred and the letter was just received, commissioners take the time to digest the issue.

Maxwell said he is frustrated, not angry, with DOT because a past meeting with DOT, Maxwell and Tyrone Mayor Eric Dial resulted in DOT saying the project had been moved up two years.

“Hopefully we can get some resolution,” Maxwell said. “It’s disheartening when you feel like you have no control. You do the best you can, you get some commitments and something gets pulled out from under you.”

The interchange replacement project has been in the hopper for years. Even in 2005, the Highway 74 Task Force met regularly on the project and included Fairburn, Union City, Peachtree City, Tyrone, Senoia, Fulton County, Coweta County and the South Fulton Community Improvement District. Fayette County during those years opted not to participate in the frequent meetings.