DOT suspends Ga. 142 widening
Salem Road still in limbo

COVINGTON - The widening of a stretch of Ga. Highway 142 has been suspended by the Georgia Department of Transportation due to financial troubles.

The DOT is indefinitely suspending 11 metro-Atlanta projects, including the widening of Ga. Highway 142 from two to four lanes from Interstate 20 to Alcovy Road in the city of Covington and replacement of a railroad bridge.

"Suspending this project is an immediate response to our financial constraints. Be reminded that this project is still in concept development, which means it is in very early stages of preliminary engineering," DOT Spokeswoman Karlene E. Barron said.

"As we continue to get a clearer picture of our finances and as we go further through the project prioritization process, we will be able to define which projects will not be built. But for now, suspending these projects means temporarily pulling all spending on these projects which is an immediate response to our financial constraints," she said.

Newton County Engineer Kevin Walter said he read the news in the newspaper over the weekend and was never contacted by the DOT. Board of Commissioners Chairman Aaron Varner also said he had not received any notification.

The good news, however, is that the widening is the least critical of the three projects under way in the Ga. 142 corridor, Walter said.

The stretch of road affected is the widening of the roadway north of Home Depot.

Bridgework under way, along with the widening to the south and interchange improvements at U.S. Highway 278, appears to be on track, he said.

"The project that is most important to us is from the new Wal-Mart south to where the old Wal-Mart is," he said.

Improvements to the Hazelbrand Road interchange should address traffic woes on the northern stretch of the road, he said.

"We don't think traffic in that stretch will really be a problem for another five, 10 or 15 years. With all the improvements at the interchange exit 93 and at the bridge, the road now is in pretty good shape," he said.

Two years ago, the county considered asking the DOT to transfer right of way funds from the Ga. Highway 142 project onto the widening of Salem Road but were advised by then-DOT Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl not to because "we might not get it back," Walter said.

Now, both projects appear to be in limbo.

Federal transportation authorities will not sign off on the Salem Road project, saying a new I-20 interchange between Salem and Almon roads is also necessary to alleviate congestion.

The interchange, known as the West Covington Bypass, was featured in the county's recently approved Comprehensive Transportation Plan at an estimated cost of $58.7 million.

"If they feel it won't accommodate traffic for 20 years, they won't build it," Walter said.

That attitude leaves the county in a "Catch-22" situation, he added.

"The real widening is what's needed and that's been painfully slow ... They say we can't (widen Salem) unless we have the interchange, but they won't let us build the interchange. It's not even a listed project and there's no money anyway," he said.

Walter said he's been working on the Salem Road project for seven years, and little progress has been made.

However, this year a portion of the road was resurfaced and the state helped improve the intersection with Old Salem Road. Work is also expected to begin on Smith Store Road intersection before the year is out, which the state agreed to fund after the county did the design work.

Walter said he expects Newton and Rockdale boards of commissioners to get together once the elections are over to discuss what more can be done to expedite the widening.

"It's a critical project, but right now, there's no path to fix it," he said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.