A construction crew lowers a concrete panel into place along Broad Street in Winder. The panels are part of an innovative technique, used for the first time in Georgia, believed to improve the life of the road.
WINDER — Historic Broad Street has been the gathering place in Winder for decades.
But Thursday, the city’s downtown won’t just be a spot for family meals, commerce and civic gatherings. It will be the feature of a symposium of engineers and officials from across the Southeast, interested in learning about the innovative new technique construction crews are using to rebuild Winder’s major thoroughfare.
Broad Street is the first road in the state and one of just a handful in the nation to be constructed from precast concrete panels, as part of the Highways for Life grant program from the Federal Highway Administration.
The method uses the most reliable form of road pavement — concrete — but it takes away the factors that can harm the durability of the material by creating panels in a controlled environment, away from the heat and humidity that happens along a construction zone.
Plus, Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Teri Pope said, the method allowed for quicker construction time and a phased approach that would have a minimal impact on the busy downtown area.
“The road would likely have to be resurfaced at least twice during the 25 year life span of the concrete,” Pope said, adding that a comparison of the cost of a more typical resurfacing is more difficult because of the lifespan.
“We needed a way to build a smooth and lasting roadway that wouldn’t develop the ruts,” she said, adding that the road was last paved in 1999 but had developed deep ruts due to the heavy truck traffic through the Barrow County seat. “(The) decision was based on several factors not wasn’t just cost. Time and the impact of a work zone to the downtown area was a major factor in the decision, long life of concrete panels, the additional funding from Highways for Life.”
The federal program covered $2 million of the nearly $5 million cost of the project, and the city also pitched in for some streetscaping at the same time, with a total of $1 million in grants to aid in that effort to add enhancements like sidewalks, benches and lighting.
“Early on, I had a couple concerns,” said Winder Mayor David Maynard, who spent nearly three decades as a builder himself. “But I think it’s fine,” he added, noting the incredibly high strength of the precast concrete panels. “They are calling this a highway for life.”
Built just a few miles away at Foley Products Company in Winder, where manufacturers were trained by Fort Miller Group, the designers of super slab system, the panels vary by shape and size based on the contours of the three-quarter mile section of Broad Street, from the CSX railroad tracks to Stephens Street.
Since April, crews from G.P.’S Enterprises have worked to fit the panels together, like pieces of a puzzle, Pope said, adding that the work is ahead of schedule, with more than 250 of the 350 panels already set in place.
Today’s showcase will give other officials from the Southeast a chance to view the project, while officials work to determine if they will use the method in the future, Pope said.