LAWRENCEVILLE - Drivers will have a totally new experience commuting from Lawrenceville this weekend, when crews open two new bridges that connect Ga. Highway 316 to Interstate 85 and Pleasant Hill Road.
"Using that one merge is 85,000 people a day," said Crystal Paulk-Buchanan, as she pointed to the current Ga. 316 west to I-85 south merge from atop a bridge Wednesday. "We're going to be splitting them up into three lanes. It'll be great."
But transportation officials don't want drivers to get too excited during the milestone in the three-year $147 million interchange reconstruction project.
"We don't want 20 crashes because everyone is looking at the great view," said Teri Pope, another transportation spokeswoman. "It's going to be beautiful. But don't get completely distracted because it's going to be completely different."
The project, which won't be complete until next year, is three months ahead of schedule, a contractor said Thursday. But the bridge opening, which starts tonight, if weather permits, is good news to businessmen in the Gwinnett Place Mall area.
While drivers from Lawrenceville previously had to cross five lanes of traffic within a mile of the merge, one of the new bridges provides direct access to Pleasant Hill Road.
"It will encourage more people to come to the area to shop," during the Christmas season, said Joe Allen, executive director of the Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District. "The business (owners) we've spoken with are thrilled."
This weekend, crews will also open a collector-distributor extension, which means drivers coming south on Interstate 85 will have to leave the interstate about a mile earlier to reach Pleasant Hill Road. Detour signs will remain posted for a week or two to help drivers who miss the exit, Pope said.
The Boggs Road entrance to I-85 south, which was closed as part of the construction, will also reopen.