STONE MOUNTAIN - Jerry Oberholtzer has known since 1990 - when he broke his sternum and bruised his heart in a car accident on U.S. Highway 78 - that a median would make the road safer.
Now, the mayor of Snellville and others are holding out hope that the median project will not only prevent accidents like the one that left him unable to pick up his infant son but will also revitalize one of the county's busiest business corridors.
Officials from federal, state, county, city and community groups came together Friday to share the excitement of a groundbreaking on the long-awaited median project, which will include removal of the reversible lane system on a 6.65-mile stretch from Stone Mountain to Snellville.
"There's a shared feeling that really great things are happening on the corridor," said Ken Shiver, chairman of the Evermore Community Improvement District, a group of business owners who have agreed to tax themselves to reinvest in the area. "As you travel this corridor, you are going to see a lot of problems, yes, but you are also going to see a lot of progress and a lot of opportunity."
Russell McMurray, the Georgia Department of Transportation's district engineer, said drivers can expect some traffic delays while sections of the reversible lane system are removed, but he promised that keeping access to businesses would be a priority.
Plus, he said, no lane closures would be allowed when the laser show is held at Stone Mountain Park or when University of Georgia football games are scheduled in Athens.
"Hopefully we can get in and get out and return you to normalcy as soon as possible," McMurray said.
In addition to the median and a widening to three lanes in each direction, the $31.5 million project includes new landscaping, decorative mast arms for traffic signals, internally illuminated street signs, benches, sidewalks and signal synchronization work. The extra amenities are funded by the CID and Gwinnett County.
Site work begins Monday, if weather permits, with crews beginning with a section from East Park Place to Stone Drive and heading east. The project is expected to be complete in November 2009.
"The bottom line is this is a new beginning for this corridor. In two years, it's going to look completely different," Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said. "This is an important investment in the southern part of the county, not just for its health but for its quality of life."