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Companies selected for I-85/316 project

LAWRENCEVILLE - The state Department of Transportation picked a duo of road building companies Monday to overhaul the Interstate 85 and Ga. Highway 316 interchange.

The massive project was awarded to a joint venture between C.W. Matthews Inc. and APAC-Southeast, whose $147.4 million bid was the lowest received by the state.

The selection clears the way for work to begin on the project later this winter, although traffic disruptions will not occur until late 2006, a DOT spokeswoman said.

"What motorists will see first is the clearing of the area, the removal of trees and shrubs," said DOT spokeswoman Teri Pope. "They'll be creating a clean palette so construction can begin."

When DOT received bids for the interchange work in October they were significantly higher than originally expected, and it was unknown if DOT would accept the proposals or rebid the project.

After reviewing the lowest bid, DOT concluded it was not out of line with what the project should cost.

"We double-checked the pricing to make sure we were getting the best value for the dollar," Pope said. "We determined it was a good bid and a wise use of taxpayers' dollars."

The federal government is paying for 80 percent of the three-year project, while the state is picking up the rest of the tab.

The project will include 17 miles of new high-occupancy vehicle lanes on I-85 and Ga. 316, and 11 miles of "collector-distributor lanes" fronting the interstate.

In addition, 11 existing bridges will be rebuilt and two new ones added. The new spans will "fly over" the interstate and let motorists merge from the slower right-hand lanes instead of being dumped into the faster left-hand lanes.

The parallel lanes along I-85 will let motorists hop between Pleasant Hill Road and Ga. 316 without merging onto the interstate.

Also, HOV lanes on I-85 that now stop around Pleasant Hill Road will be extended to Old Peachtree Road near Suwanee.

"This great project will have a lasting impact on transportation in the entire northeastern region of the state," DOT Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl said in a prepared statement.

Workers will probably begin clearing trees and bushes around the interchange and along Ga. 316 and I-85 in late January or early February, Pope said. The expected completion date for the entire project is December 2008.

No work will be done on Saturdays when the University of Georgia has home football games in Athens, Pope said.

The state project would not have started for another five years if Gwinnett County had not helped prepare for it, Pope said.

The county hired a consultant to do the engineering, and it hired a consultant to buy the right of way, which was paid for with federal dollars.

"Gwinnett County is a huge partner in this project and allowed it to get fast-tracked," Pope said.

The junction of I-85 and Ga. 316 handles 263,000 vehicles daily.