The Georgia Department of Transportation's widening of Ga. 151 (Alabama Highway) is getting closer, and city officials say the road's two bridges will be the initial point of focus as construction gets underway.
Ringgold City Manager Dan Wright says that the contractor has informed the city of the pending bridge work, but that a concrete start date has not been specified.
"They have told us that they plan on primarily starting on the two bridges, the one at Walgreen's at Chickamauga Creek, and then the one at I-75," Wright said. "Their main focus is going to be on raising those bridges, building new bridges, and both are supposed to go up five to six feet in elevation. They also plan on starting to clear and improve the right of way widening at Hazel Drive, which is the road just past Rollins Industrial Boulevard."
Although the bridges will be the starting point for the contractor, the city and multiple others will be involved in ongoing utility work.
"You're going to see construction going on all over the place," Wright said. "The reason you'll see it (construction) all over the place is because the city of Ringgold has water lines that are in conflict, Catoosa Utility District has water lines in conflict all down through there...Atlanta Gas Light, Ringgold Telephone Company, North Georgia EMC, Charter cable...all of us have a certain amount of days we have to move these. We have to coordinate that with the GDOT utility coordination office."
Overall, the project is a nearly $35 million plan that includes the widening and reconstruction of Ga. Highway 151 (Alabama Highway) from approximately 3,200 feet south of Rollins Industrial Boulevard at Holcomb Road through the I-75 Interchange to U.S. Highway 41 in Ringgold for a distance of approximately 2.03 miles.
The widening will be from a two-lane roadway to a four-lane divided with a 20-foot raised median to Boynton Road/Lafayette Street and flush median to U.S. 41. The project also includes the replacement of the existing bridges over I-75 and South Chickamauga Creek, and the reconstruction of the existing I-75/Ga. 151 interchange.
"Upon completion, this project will provide local and through traffic along Ga. 151 with a roadway that will adequately serve current and future travel demands and provide the public with a safer driving environment," said Mohammed Arafa, public relations manager for GDOT. "The Ga. 151 improvements are part of the Chattanooga Urban Area Transportation Study and involve the multilaning of this primarily north-south corridor in North Georgia near the city of Ringgold. The project also provides for future expansion of I-75 with a longer bridge and relocated ramps."
During the most recent Ringgold City Council meeting on Monday night, July 10, Wright explained the pending utility work, and how it might seem sporadic to some.
"You'll see us working here, then we'll jump up 100 feet here or 2,000 feet there. There's going to be a lot of hodgepodge-type construction and it's not going to make sense to a lot of people, but you have a lot of players with utilities on GDOT right of way, and we're going to have to move them off," Wright said. "Right now we're just trying to get the notice to proceed out and move forward."
While GDOT and the contractor have indicated that the work will begin "soon," an official start date has not been publicized.
"They've been given the green light," Wright said. "I would expect it any time."
Because Georgia legislators did not approve a back-to-school sales tax holiday for 2017, parents and students will need to cross the state line if they want to shop tax-free.
That is an inconvenience for those residing in the northwestern corner of the state, as both Tennessee and Alabama continued with their tax-free weekends this year.
It is too late to shop tax-free in Alabama, where tax exemptions on clothing, computers, supplies and books were offered the weekend of July 21-23.
But to the north, Tennessee's tax holiday will be this weekend, July 28-30. Exemptions apply to purchases of clothing ($100 or less per item), computers ($1,500 or less) and school and art supplies ($100 or less per item). Apparel priced at more than $100 will be taxed. Tax will also be collected on jewelry and handbags as well as sports and recreational equipment.
Residents of Georgia had become used to not just one, but two, annual tax free weekends, one in late summer for back-to-school shopping and another in the fall that highlighted energy efficient appliances and home improvement items.
Though popular with consumers, some local governments claimed the loss of tax revenue — some estimate that figure as high as $70 million in Georgia — is too great a burden to bear.
Catoosa County's chief financial officer, Carl Henson, said having a sales tax holiday is "not a deal breaker" though it is not revenue neutral.
Using the 2016 figures for July, he said LOST (local option sales tax) receipts were down about $24,000 and SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) collections were off about $34,000 compared to other the prior year.
Walker County, which has far fewer retail outlets than Catoosa, is not expected to see a big boost in revenue due to the tax-free weekend having been cancelled for 2017.
"The last time we had one we didn't really notice a decrease," Walker County financial officer Greg McConnell said. "Our sales tax collections are so small that it doesn't make much of a difference. Most people seem to travel outside the county to shop — most seem to go to Fort Oglethorpe to shop."
The city of Ringgold is moving forward with its plan to upgrade safety measures at City Hall after voting to have an architect propose a design to install bulletproof glass at the building's main service counter.
Last year, Mayor Pro Tem Terry Crawford brought up the idea of ensuring employee safety at the main counter with protective glass, and now the project is gaining traction.
"For some time now, we've been talking about having someone come in and design and give us an estimate on providing bulletproof glass in front of our administrative offices," said City Manager Dan Wright.
Like Crawford, Wright pointed out that City Hall staff interacts with a variety of customers on a daily basis.
"We have ladies who answer the phones, take payments, assist customers in every way," Wright explained.
"We also have many people who come in that are not from out community that may be here for criminaltype matters, and it's getting to point where we feel like we need to do something to protect them (employees).
The council unanimously agreed to allow architect Kenny McDade to look at the counter in front of the administrative offices and submit a design proposal.
"I'm sure we've all seen what's going on with violence around the world," Crawford said when he first proposed the idea. "It's a sad thing to think about, but it could happen to us right here. We have ladies that sit up there at that front office that are actually scared from time to time, and our employees should not be afraid to come to work."