Georgia DOT held a public open house this spring to present the future Bethlehem Road exit. The state shared their response letter on June 13. Less than 100 residents submitted comments about the project.
The state received 74 comments. Of those who commented, 32 were in support of the project and 16 opposed. 14 respondents were uncommitted and 12 expressed conditional support.
Bethlehem Road Exit
The Georgia Department of Transportation is planning to construct a new interstate exit at I-75 and Bethlehem Road. This would be exit 214 between Locust Grove and McDonough. The state unveiled the project concept layout during an open house this spring. The concept layout includes the following:
- construct a new four-lane roadway south of the existing Bethlehem Road, between Greenwood Industrial / Lester Mill Road and SR 42,
- build a new interstate exit from I-75 to the new road, and
- construct four new roundabouts as part of the project: Bethlehem at Greenwood / Lester Mill, the I-75 off ramps and Bethlehem Road west of SR 42.
The state accepted public comment in March and April about the project. They have now shared their response to the I-75 at Bethlehem Road comments received.
State Response to Comments
The state DOT published a letter summarizing the comments received. Below are some excerpts. Comments have minor edits for clarity and length.
Will Bethlehem Road remain along with the New Bethlehem Road, or will the old road be demolished altogether?
Portions of the existing Bethlehem Road would be left in place. The project proposes cul-de-sacs in three locations along existing Bethlehem Road. They are located just west of Academic Parkway and on either side of I-75. The project would remove portions of Bethlehem Road no longer accessible. Bethlehem Road would remain accessible through realigned Price Drive on the west side of I-75 and through the proposed roundabout on the east side of I-75.
How long will construction last? When will it begin?
Construction of the new exit will last an estimated 36 months. Work is presently slated to begin in 2025.
Has Georgia DOT considered other interchange configurations, such as a cloverleaf interchange?
Yes, the state evaluated other interchange options such as a cloverleaf, traditional diamond and diverging diamond layouts. The roundabout interchange type provides the best traffic operations while also minimizing project construction costs and impacts to adjacent properties. A cloverleaf configuration would require a significantly larger project footprint, which would increase property and environmental impacts, and increase cost. Finally, a cloverleaf design would increase the complexity of accommodating the future commercial vehicle lane (CVL) project.
Are trucks going to be required to use this interchange?
Trucks would not be required to use this interchange. The proposed interchange is being designed to accommodate the proposed CVL project. It will provide direct access from the CVLs to New Bethlehem Road. However, trucks can also continue to travel north along I-75 via the CVL or general-purpose lanes.
How will this project affect I-75?
The proposed project would construct on and off-ramps to and from I-75 as part of the proposed interchange; however, I-75 would continue to function as it currently exists today with three, general purpose lanes in both the northbound and southbound directions. In 2032, the proposed CVL project would be open to traffic, to provide two, barrier-separated, commercial vehicle-only lanes northbound along I-75 from the I-475 / I-75 Interchange near Macon to the McDonough area.
Why not widen I-75 to ease traffic?
Widening I-75 would not meet the need and purpose of the proposed project to alleviate traffic congestion at the interchanges of I-75 at SR 155 and I-75 at Bill Gardner Parkway, as well as additional intersections located through the project area.
Proposed Roundabouts in the Project
Georgia DOT received several comments raising concern about the proposed roundabouts within the project. Some of those comments included:
- “I support this project; however, I do not support the installation of roundabouts at the on and off- ramps at the interchange.”
- ”I am particularly concerned about trucks navigating through the roundabouts and slowing down all other traffic.”
- “I would support this project if the roundabouts are large enough to accommodate truck traffic. I have seen trucks destroy roundabouts and adjacent landscaping.”
- “I am concerned about traffic backing up going through the roundabout at Bethlehem Road and Greenwood Road / Lester Mill Road.”
Below is the state’s response:
The decision to propose a roundabout as a preferred alternative is validated through the Intersection Control Evaluation (ICE) Stage 1 – Screening and ICE Stage 2 – Alternative Selection analyses. These studies evaluate the performance of many types of intersection controls for a particular location. They seek to determine the best possible overall value for performance-based criteria. Further, the roundabout interchange type was selected as it provides the best traffic operations while minimizing project construction costs and impacts to adjacent properties. Roundabouts have been demonstrated to provide a number of safety, operational, and other benefits when compared to other types of intersections. Specifically, they have fewer conflict points compared to conventional at-grade intersections, lower speeds, and have been found to reduce crash frequency, crash severity, traffic delays, fuel consumption, and air pollution.
The proposed roundabouts have been designed for both passenger vehicle and truck traffic. They include features such as truck aprons, which accommodate the wheel tracking of long or oversized vehicles. The state completed traffic analyses for both existing and future passenger vehicle and truck traffic volumes for all segments of the proposed interchange, to include the roundabouts at the on and off-ramp terminals. In the open year (2028) and design year (2048) build conditions, the on- and off-ramps operate at acceptable levels of service (LOS) in both the AM and PM peak hours.
Based on the operational intersection analysis, the current intersection of Bethlehem Road and Lester Mill Road / Greenwood Road would operate at a LOS F by 2028 without improvements. This is the worst-possible rating for level of service. This indicates vehicles would experience unacceptable delays without the proposed project. Following the project build, the traffic analysis shows the LOS at this intersection would improve to LOS A in peak hours.
Increase in Traffic Concerns
The state received comments concerned traffic volumes will increase as a result of the project. Comments also raised concern about forthcoming development in the area. Such comments included:
- “I am very concerned about the increase in truck traffic in the area and worry that it will have negative impacts on the communities as well as the natural environment in the area.”
- “Trucks are currently prohibited from driving on Lester Mill Road/Greenwood Road. Will this change as a result of the proposed project?”
- “Locals currently rely on existing Bethlehem Road to travel east/west and avoid traffic at SR 155 to the north and Bill Gardner Parkway to the south. I am concerned that construction of the new interchange will result in the same problem and make traffic conditions worse along Bethlehem Road.”
- “Will there be any restrictions to prevent this interchange from becoming over-commercialized? I am concerned that this interchange will recreate the same issue that is occurring at the SR 155 interchange just north of the proposed Bethlehem Road exit.”
- “While road improvements are sorely needed, adding more warehouses along the new roads is not going to help the traffic problem in Henry County. It will defeat the purpose and just create more traffic, which is what you are trying to rectify in the first place.”
The state’s response was as follows:
The recent, planned, and expanding developments in the area are anticipated to increase passenger vehicle and truck traffic within the project area. They will also increase the number of vehicles and trucks needing access to I-75. The proposed interchange project is being designed to address the anticipated growth due to the developments. It will accommodate both current and projected future traffic volumes. The improvements are anticipated to result in an 83% and 86% delay improvement within the entire study area in the AM and PM peak hours, respectively during the open year (2028). In the design year (2048), the proposed project would result in an 82% and 85% delay improvement in the AM and PM peak hours, respectively. Once the proposed improvements are complete, Henry County would make the determination where to remove or update any current truck restrictions.
Georgia DOT does not have the authority to limit development either planned or permitted through local jurisdictions. According to land use interviews conducted as part of the environmental process, higher-intensity land uses, which can allow for commercial development, have been in the planning stages for over 20 years. They began with the approval of the Eagle’s Brooke Development of Regional Impact (DRI) in 1999. Upcoming developments in the area are anticipated to increase passenger vehicle and truck traffic within the project area. The proposed project would help address these concerns.
Following the open house, Georgia DOT will continue to further refine the project concept. An approved concept report should also be on the horizon. The concept report allows GDOT management to sign-off on the general project plan and the project advance to more technical engineering work. The state anticipates early right of way acquisition to begin later this year. Right of way acquisition will conclude by the time construction begins.
The next opportunity for public comment will be at a public hearing open house (PHOH). This open house is required as part of the federal environmental review. The state expects to hold this event in either late 2023 or early 2024.
Georgia DOT is using a design-build contract for the Bethlehem Road project. This means the state will select a project contractor to not only build the project, but also assist in final design work. This accelerates the project timeline. A traditional project schedule would see design complete before right of way acquisition or construction can commence.
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Featured image shows the project concept layout for the Bethlehem Road exit. Georgia DOT photo.