LAWRENCEVILLE - Driving down New Hope Road, people can easily spot a mountain of gravel.
It's one of only a few signs of the construction of an extension to Sugarloaf Parkway.
The big picture - even bigger than the growing mound of crushed rock - is more hidden, as crews work to create the first section of a six-mile route to link southern Gwinnett to Ga. Highway 316.
Just on the other side of the rock mountain, crews are working to excavate huge chunks of granite to create a roadbed for the extension, the first phase of which is about halfway complete. At the same time, construction workers are laying bridge beams and securing steel into place for where New Hope Road will cross Sugarloaf. The road will have to be realigned, so, for now, crews have the benefit of working in a large empty lot, free from the traffic concerns most road projects bring.
"(With) new location jobs you don't have to worry about traffic control, and you don't have to worry about utilities. Those are the advantages of working on a new location," Gwinnett Deputy Transportation Director Alan Chapman said, adding that the project has meant a few disruptions on Chandler Road, as crews work on a bridge over the Grayson-area road.
After the first year, crews from E.R. Snell Contractors are on schedule to receive an incentive for completing the project six months early.
That means that by early 2010 people could drive along the route - now cleared but a tough drive for a GMC SUV, maneuvering over rock or mud to take Gwinnett Daily Post staff on a recent tour.
"Every time I'm up here, they are pretty aggressive with (construction)," Chapman said.
For the $23.5 million, 2.7-mile first stretch, a mini-quarry has been set up on the location, and crews have been crushing rock as they excavate it. The contractor hopes, said Hank Collins, who is inspecting the construction, to not have to ship in any rock for the project. About 16,000 tons of the aggregate has already been placed.
"It's gone well so far," Chapman said, knocking on the back of a seat. "We've still got over a year to go."
Last month, commissioners gave the go-ahead to Sunbelt Structures Inc. to continue the extension from New Hope Road to Martins Chapel Road, with a $24.8 million contract. Officials are working on the preliminary design to continue the route to Ga. Highway 316, with that contract expected to be secured about this time next year.
If all goes as planned, drivers could have a less-than 10 minute commute from southern Lawrenceville to Ga. 316 by 2012.
"There's just not a good way to get between the two (points) right now," Chapman said of a drive that could take more than half an hour during rush hour.
Gwinnett officials are hoping to get federal funds to continue the parkway to Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, creating a loop around the county seat. Chapman said Barack Obama's proposal to make the greatest investment in infrastructure since the interstate system was built could help free up money for the project, but the dollars haven't been secured.
"When phase two (the route to PIB) is done, it will really tie south and north together and give people an alternative to State Route 20, which is pretty congested," he said.