I-16/I-75 Improvement Project
Advisory Committee Meeting Summary
Centreplex
November 17, 2004
2:00-6:00p.m.


Advisory Committee Participants:
Betty Lou Browne, Macon Heritage

Sandra Bush, Resident

Lynn Cass, Macon Bibb County Transit

Sid Cherry, Downtown Council

Eugene Dunwody, Sr., Dunwoody/Beeland

Mike Ford, Newtown Macon

Jim David, Ocmulgee Nat’l Monument

Daniel Fischer, Caution Macon

Regina McDuffie, Centreplex

Brian McDavid, Shirley Hills

Chip Cherry, Chamber of Commerce

Anita Ponder, Macon City Council

David Stanley, Minister


Project Team Participants:
Joe Palladi, GDOT

Ben Buchan, GDOT

Chuck Hasty, GDOT

Glenn Bowman, GDOT

Marlo Clowers, GDOT

Leesa Walker, GDOT

David Painter, FHWA

Brad Hale, MAAI

Pat Smeeton, MAAI

Will Sheehan, MAAI

Tim Heilmeier, HNTB

Liz Sanford, Sycamore Consulting

Leah Vaughan, Sycamore Consulting


Discussion Summary

Ms. Liz Sanford opened the meeting with introductions and meeting rules.   Mr. Joe Palladi reiterated the project goals of improving safety and operational efficiency of the interchange, as defined in the project’s Need & Purpose statement.  He specifically mentioned the problems with traffic backup onto the mainline at the Spring St. exit from I-16 EB and the capacity problems on the one-lane ramp from I-16 WB to I-75 NB during hurricane evacuations.  He also summarized the additional project goals as set by the Advisory Committee in 2000, state and federal criteria that must be met, and the constraints due to the project’s location.  He stated that the Department’s goal was to develop a context sensitive design that also meets federal standards for safety.

After his opening remarks, Mr. Palladi then reviewed the process which led to the development of the preferred concept alternative (Alternative #7) in the year 2000.  The first step was to provide the public the opportunity to comment on the problems within the project area at a Public Information Meeting (PIM) held in November 1999.  The project team considered the comments received at the PIM while developing concept alternatives.  Line diagrams (schematic concept drawings) for six alternatives were then developed and presented to the Advisory Committee for comment.  After two meetings with the Advisory Committee, Alternate #7 (a hybrid of earlier alternatives) was developed and ultimately endorsed by the committee as the ‘Preferred Concept Alternative’. Mr. Palladi also stated that this meeting was the last he would attend and that Ben Buchan would be assuming responsibility for this project on behalf of GDOT.

Mr. Ben Buchan then spoke about what has happened since the last meeting of the Advisory Committee in the Fall of 2000.  Mr. Buchan noted the following as the primary tasks that have been completed in the last four years:

·         Railroad Relocation Study.  Moreland Altobelli prepared a railroad relocation study during the year 2000.  The goal of the study was to provide downtown Macon with an accessible riverfront.  Four alternatives were initially studied.  MA’s study was expanded on by Joseph Passonneau (an engineer from Washington D.C. retained by Newtown Macon, Inc.).  The City of Macon ultimately recommended that GDOT proceed with the preferred concept alternative without provisions for relocating the railroad within the project limits.

·         Value Engineering Study.  A value engineering (VE) study was conducted for the preferred concept alternative during March/April 2002.  The VE Team included professionals from GDOT, FHWA, and Ventry Engineering (a consultant hired specifically for handling VE studies).  Mr. Buchan explained that Value Engineering studies are required on all Federal-Aid projects with a total cost over $25 million.  Brad will discuss modifications to the preferred concept alternative as a result of the VE study later in the meeting.

·         Re-evaluation of Preferred Concept Alternative.  In early 2003, GDOT received requests from Macon City Council and FHWA to consider modifications to the preferred concept alternative.  Since then, the following potential modifications have been reviewed by the project team:

1)      Fewer bridges over the river,

2)      Changes to the collector-distributor (CD) system,

3)      Right hand entrance/exit ramps on I-75,

4)      Geometric ramp metering, and

5)      Separation of system and service level traffic.

Advisory Committee member, Brian McDavid, then made note of the City Council Meeting on February 11, 2003.  Committee member (and Macon City Council president) Anita Ponder stated that at that meeting City Council voted unanimously to recommend that the scale of the project be reduced.

Local Design Alternatives

Mr. Brad Hale then presented a review of three alternatives submitted to GDOT as part of the public involvement process.  Each alternative was evaluated with respect to the project goals as set forth by the committee in 2000.  A comprehensive ‘matrix’ was provided that compared these alternatives to the each of the other alternatives developed by the project team.  Mr. Hale noted that analysis of a particular alternative was terminated once a ‘fatal flaw’ was determined.  Some alternatives, therefore, have been studied more than others.

He began by discussing the Passoneau Alternative.  He mentioned that the cost of relocating the Norfolk Southern Railroad to the other side of the river would be approximately the same as building a Macon rail bypass, which was recommended as a result of MA’s Railroad Relocation Study.  In addition, the relocated rail line would have to be higher which would increase noise.  Other faults with the alternative included the lack of access to I-75 SB from Spring St.  Traffic wanting access to I-75 SB from Spring St. would have to go to Second St. and would overload the Second St. interchange.  Mr. Hale then explained that the fatal flaw with the Passoneau alternative concerned the cost and constructability of lowering I-16 and raising Spring St. over the interstate.  Spring St. itself would have to be closed for a period of two years to build this alternative.

The McCullough Alternative was discussed next.  Mr. Hale explained that the fatal flaw with this alternative was that there is no interchange at Spring St.  The traffic would normally access the interstate from Spring St. would have to use the Second St. interchange, which would cause undesirable congestion on the local street network.  Advisory Committee member Brian McDavid then asked if solutions to the potential congestion on Second Street had been studied.  Mr. Hale explained that the Macon-Bibb Planning & Zoning Office had done a preliminary planning-level analysis.  It would take an additional local project to transfer Gray Highway traffic to Second Street.

The Holliday Alternative was discussed next.  The Holliday Alternative proposed to shift the I-16 alignment to follow that of the proposed Eisenhower Parkway extension.  The location of the I-16/I-75 interchange would then be moved to the current location of the I-75/Eisenhower Pkwy. Interchange.  Mr. Hale explained that the impacts of this alternative are much greater than the impacts of the keeping the I-16/I-75 interchange in its current location.  As a comparison, Mr. Hale referred to an aerial photo showing the preferred concept alternative (Alternative #7) and asked the committee members to visualize the footprint of the proposed I-16/I-75 interchange on the current location of the I-75/Eisenhower Pkwy. interchange.  Mr. Hale explained that there would be additional impacts - residential and environmental - to the Eisenhower Pkwy. corridor as it would have to be widened and improved significantly to accommodate interstate traffic.  Ms. Ponder noted that there were impacts to several properties within the Pleasant Hill District with Alternative #9.  She questioned whether the impacts along the Eisenhower Pkwy with the Holliday Alternative would be any worse than the impacts with Alternative #9.  Mr. Hale responded that the Holliday Alternative had not been studied closely enough to determine the number of impacted properties.  GDOT agreed to provide an estimate of the impacts with the Holliday Alternative for the next Advisory Committee Meeting.

After Mr. Hale’s discussion of the Passoneau, McCullough, and Holliday alternatives, Mr. Joe Palladi added that the need and purpose developed by the Advisory Committee was not met with any of the alternatives commissioned by the locals.  At this point, the floor was opened up to Advisory Member questions.  Committee member Betty Lou Browne asked why the Passoneau Alternative could not be done without relocating the railroad.  Mr. Hale answered by saying that maintaining the railroad in its current location does not improve the issues of cost and constructability of lowering I-16 and raising Spring St. over the interstate.  Mr. Chip Cherry asked why one of the interchanges on I-16 to downtown could not be eliminated.  Mr. Hale explained that the remaining two interchanges would not be able to handle the additional traffic if one of the interchanges was removed.  In addition, the presence of partial interchanges on I-16 is one of the key problems listed in the original need and purpose as needing improvement.

Changes to Preferred Concept

As a result of the Value Engineering process and the Department’s work sessions with the FHWA, a new alternative (Alternative #9) has been developed.  Mr. Hale noted that this alternative includes the following modifications to the preferred concept alternative:

     1.                   Reduce I-75 SB from four lanes to three lanes between Pierce Avenue and I-16.

2.                   Remove all left-hand ingress and egress from I-75 SB.  (It was noted that this was the most significant change to the preferred concept alternative.  This change results in impacts to the Pleasant Hill Historic District and requires reconstruction of the Riverside Drive, Walnut Street and pedestrian bridges over I-75)

3.                   Shift I-75 NB / I-16 EB split approximately ¾ mile south.

4.                   Re-configure the interchange ramps and bridges over the Ocmulgee River (reduce overall footprint over river and trail).

5.                   Reduce the EB CD from four lanes to three lanes between the Ocmulgee River and Spring Street.

6.                   Remove the entrance ramp from Spring Street to I-16 EB.

7.                   Re-align the EB CD between Spring Street and Coliseum Drive.

8.                   Reduce I-16 WB from three lanes to two lanes from Coliseum Drive to the end of the project.

9.                   Reduce the left turn from NB Coliseum Drive to I-16 WB from two lanes to one lane.

10.               Connect the entrance ramp from Coliseum Drive directly to the I-16 WB mainline.

11.               Reduce I-16 WB from four lanes to three lanes between the Ocmulgee River and Coliseum Drive.

Mr. Hale concluded his presentation with a comparison of the overall footprints between Alternative #7 and Alternative #9.  He noted that for Alternative #9, the project footprint of the section of I-75 south of the interchange is larger, but the I-16 footprint is smaller.  The ramp from Spring St. to I-16 EB had been eliminated, significantly decreasing the impacts to the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.  Also, the project footprint over the river had been reduced.  The majority of the project is still within the existing right of way except for the area along I-75 between Hardeman Avenue and I-16.

At this point, the floor was opened up to questions and comments from the Advisory Committee members.  Committee member Anita Ponder stated that it appeared the design team was giving more importance to the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail than it was to Pleasant Hill Historic District.  She pointed out that with the latest alternative, Alternative #9, the impacts to the trail decreased while the impacts to Pleasant Hill increased.  Mr. Hale replied that the additional impacts were due to the removal of the left hand exit/entrance ramps and the implementation of right hand entrance/exit ramps.  The changes along the I-16 portion of the project were independent from the changes to I-75 adjacent to Pleasant Hill.

Committee member Brian McDavid expressed concern over the height of the flyover bridges and wanted a comparison with Spaghetti Junction in Atlanta.  Mr. Hale answered that the highest point in the project would only be about half as high as the tallest bridge within the Tom Moreland Interchange (I-85/I-285 in NE Atlanta) and that the ramp grades would not be as steep, either.  A maximum grade of 4% was used on the all mainline and collector-distributor roads on the project.

Committee member Rick Hutto inquired about impacts to Linwood Cemetery and Riverside Cemetery.  He pointed out that Macon’s only Congressional Medal of Honor winner is buried at Linwood Cemetery.  Mr. Hale replied that none of the conceptual alternatives studied so far have any physical impact to the Linwood cemetery.  Alternative #9 may, however, have a minor impact to the Riverside Cemetery, but no graves would have to be relocated.

Committee members Daniel Fischer and Sandra Bush both expressed concern over the size of the project and the design criteria – mainly the right hand entrance/exit criteria.  They mentioned that it seemed like the design team was creating more difficult problems by trying to adhere strictly to the design criteria.  At this point, Mr. Hale referred their comments to Mr. David Painter with FHWA.  Mr. Painter gave a very thorough answer as to why the FHWA prefers right hand exits and entrances.  He pointed out that right-hand exits and entrances are more desirable for driver expectancy, and provide lane continuity on the mainline.  Some of the committee members then commented that many of the ramps in the current interchange are left hand entrances and exits already.

Committee member Jim David questioned the impacts to the Ocmulgee National Monument.  Mr. Hale replied that the impacts to the Monument would be slightly greater, but would still be located within the existing easement through the use of retaining walls.

Committee members Brian McDavid and Daniel Fischer posed questions regarding the environmental impacts to the river and floodplain and to what extent the environmental study had been taken.  Mr. Hale demonstrated that the impacts to the floodplain would be minimal because the majority of the proposed earthwork is within the existing interstate footprint.  This is accomplished with retaining walls, and ramps on viaduct structures when necessary.  He noted that MA’s Hydraulic Study indicated that the flood levels would only change by a matter of inches due to the proposed construction with Alternative #7.

Mr. Hale then directed the environmental study comments to Mr. Pat Smeeton of Moreland Altobelli.  Mr. Smeeton explained that there are different levels of environmental study and that the level of study depends on the estimated impacts of the project.  He also noted that all environmental documents must be approved by FHWA for Federal Aid projects.  Committee member Daniel Fischer also asked if any modifications to the dyke could be done during this project to improve the flooding conditions in Macon.  Mr. Hale explained that improving flood conditions is not within the scope of this project.

Committee member Daniel Fischer also inquired about the possibility for a pedestrian bridge over the river for the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.  Mr. Hale answered that a temporary bridge may be needed for maintenance of traffic during construction of the proposed permanent bridges.  This temporary bridge could be transformed into a pedestrian bridge after the construction is complete.

Committee member Eugene Dunwoody provided a brief summary of the key issues for the Advisory Committee.  He acknowledged that there are problems with the interchange and that something needs to be done to improve the situation.  He thanked the design team for a comprehensive presentation and applauded the community involvement process.  He asked the design team to consider modifying or eliminating the Spring Street interchange and that they not adhere so strictly to the right hand exit rule.  He also stated that the high flyover bridges are not in the best interest of the community and requested more meetings to move things forward.  Committee member Brian McDavid then requested that GDOT consider aesthetics and not just build plain concrete structures.  He specifically mentioned an interchange he had seen recently in New Mexico that was painted beautifully to match the surrounding environment.

 



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