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Pleasant Hill traffic shift allows tunnel construction to get started

DULUTH - After several months of construction and $11 million spent, the real work on the project to tunnel Pleasant Hill Road under Buford Highway is about to begin.

That's because crews are about to open a brand new intersection right next to the Duluth construction zone, getting drivers out of the way for the tunneling to begin.

"It's a good thing to separate the traffic from the construction," Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Teri Pope said. "We will be able to work faster and safer."

On Sunday, the DOT will open a 0.9-mile temporary stretch of Pleasant Hill and a 0.4-mile temporary stretch of Buford Highway.

According to project manager Matthew Wiggins, the roads are just as thick and built to the same standard as the permanent ones.

"It's a pavement that's designed for 20 years, even though it's only going to be here two years, because of the traffic," Wiggins said.

While the cars flow through the temporary intersection, crews will transform the old intersection into an interchange, with Buford Highway becoming a bridge over Pleasant Hill and entrance and exit ramps for drivers who want to turn.

The tunnel will also go under a rail line that currently causes traffic to back up a dozen or so times a day.

The crew is also building a temporary track for the trains to stay off the other while the crews make it into a bridge.

"Everything's temporary out here right now," Wiggins said with a laugh. "My boss jokes that our project hasn't even started yet."

To pave the way for the construction, the crews have built two permanent measures - a light at Pleasant Hill's intersection with May and Sunset roads and an access road for three businesses on Pleasant Hill that can no longer use a front entrance.

After Sunday, when all traffic will be halted for 15 minutes at 6 a.m. so the shift can be executed, the rest of the permanent work will begin.

"We're getting everybody out of the way before we get started," Pope said, adding that the shift would also mean that lanes won't be closed during the construction, which is expected to last until August 2008. "This project is about 90 percent being built outside the travel lanes."

Buford Highway will remain in this temporary shift until March 2008, and Pleasant Hill Road will remain in the temporary shift until August 2008.

The railroad will shift onto the detour tract in January 2007.