Growth is usually accompanied by growing pains, which is why we're glad the Georgia Department of Transportation is working to minimize impacts the upcoming I-20 widening project will have on South Carolina and Georgia motorists.
There's never a good time to take on such a project, one that also seeks to replace two aging bridges spanning the Savannah River and Augusta Canal. This section of I-20 is the most heavily traveled in Aiken and Richmond counties, a section that's poised to get even busier.
Big growth is expected with the arrival of Army Cyber Command at Fort Gordon, which is expected to employ more than 2,000 military personnel and civilians. As of October 2016, the base already had a total population of more than 25,000, according to Fort Gordon estimates.
The base's Cyber Center of Excellence, the Fort Gordon cyber school, is growing as well.
While many people working at Fort Gordon live on or near the base, a number of them commute back and forth across the Savannah River.
According to South Carolina Realtors figures from 2016, residential home growth grew three times faster in North Augusta than Aiken. That's extremely significant, given that Aiken home sales grew as well.
We take the sales trends as yet another sign that Aiken County residents are commuting across the river to work, to shop and to dine. Augusta residents are doing the same thing, heading east to experience all the great things Aiken County has to offer. Given that the I-20 bridges haven't been replaced since their original installation 50 years ago, we agree the time has come to replace them.
We were especially pleased that the Georgia Department Transportation, which is working with the S.C. Department of Transportation on the project, has a specific plan to minimize traffic backups. GDOT is dividing the work into phases after construction begins in 2019, keeping most, if not all lanes, open during construction. Any closures will occur at night, not during peak driving times, according to the GDOT.
There are even plans to build a new two-lane bridge between the existing ones to assist in traffic flow. The new bridges will feature reinforced concrete pillars. Given the old bridges weren't designed for the current traffic volume that routinely exceeds 50,000 vehicles per day, according to DOT estimates, these are welcome features.
According to GDOT project plans, four lanes of I-20 in a 2.4-mile section that includes portions on both sides of the river will be expanded to six.
Meantime, we hope drivers will exercise caution when driving this stretch, not only during the upcoming construction period, but also now. In the span leading up to formal commencement of work, there will be an off and on presence in the project area.
In a news release Thursday, GDOT noted that crews must fix more I-20 concrete slabs approaching the Georgia Welcome Center, just across the river. The left lane of I-20 will be closed between July 17 and July 20, the release said.
Work is expected to last four to six weeks.
Given that Aiken County is already off to a deadly start in July, with six people killed on county roadways in the first 11 days, we're especially hopeful drivers will exercise patience and defensive driving.
The work that's being done will make I-20 safer for everyone, but we also want safety during the construction period.