Short reprieve for drivers on highway project

LAWRENCEVILLE - Consider it an end-of-spring break.

While construction crews won't take a vacation this week, they will make it easier for Gwinnett County drivers trying to navigate through a construction zone at the Interstate 85/Ga. Highway 316 interchange.

For months now, the construction schedule has created havoc for thousands of commuters. But this week, the Department of Transportation won't close lanes or pace traffic.

Department spokeswoman Teri Pope said the free-flowing traffic could be a sign of times to come, since 80 percent of the $150 million construction job scheduled for the next three years will be outside the driving lanes.

"We have had a lot of lane closures recently," Pope said, explaining that the DOT closed part of the interstate so crews could put up temporary barrier walls along the inside and outside shoulders.

"We definitely want to keep the traffic and the workers separated," she said.

Because the walls are in place, the DOT may not have to close lanes as frequently, she said, especially where a new bridge is being constructed to take Old Norcross Road over the interstate.

According to DOT District Engineer Russell McMurry, crews will work this week on substructure of the new bridges along with retaining walls, drainage and erosion control. While all the construction is outside the travel lanes, McMurry did note that drivers will still have to deal with "the squeeze" - an early merge on Ga. Highway 316 that slows traffic near Sugarloaf Parkway.

McMurry said construction is on schedule and about 12 percent complete.

In mid-June, crews will return to the process of blasting away rock in the way of construction along I-85.

That requires closing down the entire interstate for a space of five to 10 minutes, which is accomplished by having police pace traffic.

Pope said blasting will occur two to three days a week throughout the summer - weather permitting.