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Officials push to widen Turner McCall when bridge is replaced

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"One of the worst things would be to have everyone detour around the construction, go through all that mess ... and then have it look just like it did," County Commission Chair Rhonda Wallace said.

DeWayne Comer, district engineer for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said preliminary design work is already underway and construction is expected in the next three to four years.

An average of 37,000 vehicles pass over the bridge each 24-hour period, according to the state's latest traffic counts. Comer said about 50 percent of that traffic comes all at once, during peak morning and afternoon hours.

"This is probably the biggest bottleneck we've got (in Floyd County)," he said. "But GDOT only has money for the bridge. It's (funded with) bridge money."

Comer met with city and county representatives this week to say he's advocating to expand the four-lane bridge replacement to six or eight lanes. However, GDOT needs to hear that the local community backs the move and is willing to participate financially.

Wallace and Rome Mayor Jamie Doss said they'd send a letter of support and seek a face-to-face meeting with GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry. Plans are to include the state legislative delegation in the lobbying effort.

"This is a tremendous quality of life issue for Rome," Doss said.

County Manager Jamie McCord noted that the area is "a unique terminus," with traffic from U.S. 27 and Ga. 20, 53 and 293 all converging at the end of the bridge. A portion from Ga. 101 also heads that way instead of taking Second Avenue.

The commercial corridor is ripe for further development, City Manager Sammy Rich said, but he noted that residents are already weighing the congestion when deciding if they'll go to the stores.

"You get those turn lanes moving, though, and the whole thing will change," Rich said.

Comer estimated the state would need about $3 million to $5 million more for construction if lanes are added. There's also the expense of moving utilities and acquiring right of way along the route, which fronts businesses such as Chili's, Home Depot and CVS.

A $2 million earmark to help widen the bridge remains unspent from the 2006 special purpose, local option sales tax package. However, collections dropped significantly during the recession and total revenue fell short by nearly $4 million when the SPLOST ended in 2010.

Local officials on Tuesday said they are committed to trying to find a way.

"I think we'll be short-changing our grandchildren if we don't do this," County Commissioner Wright Bagby said.

Meanwhile, as GDOT moves ahead with the plans on its books, Comer said he expects at least one town-hall meeting to be held regarding the proposed detour during construction.