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Loop Project Will Unsnarl Bottleneck on Lexington Road

Construction of new ramps on the Loop at Lexington Road will eventually eliminate the bottleneck at the interchange. Credit: Sarah Ann White

We’ve all grumbled about the bottleneck at the Loop interchange on Lexington Road. But unless it’s a part of your daily commute, you may have felt whiplash in the last few months or so by how quickly the area’s vegetation was stripped, bulldozed flat and replaced with orange cones and loud equipment. The construction, though aesthetically displeasing at the moment, is intended to mitigate decades-old traffic problems and dangers associated with the intersection.

The project will expand that stretch of U.S Highway 78 from four lanes to six and add a 20-foot raised median and sidewalks. Additionally, the reconstruction will overhaul the northbound 10 Loop exit and entrance ramps: the current northbound entrance ramp will be removed, an exit for westbound Oconee Street travelers will be added in its place, and a new entrance ramp is set to be constructed directly across from Barnett Shoals Road. Intersections and medians will be adjusted or removed if needed. Construction begins at the Oconee Street/Oak Street intersection and ends slightly east of Winterville Road, amounting to roughly 0.6 of a mile in total. 

Complaints about the intersection have been mounting for decades. A concept for this project was originally approved by the Georgia Department of Transportation in 1996, revised in 2005 and 2012, and re-approved in 2017. Construction finally began in October of last year and is roughly 5% complete, according to GDOT. 

The current completion date, which GDOT District One Communications Officer Melodii Peoples says construction is on target to meet, is June 29, 2025. Though the intersection will reduce congestion in the long term, “before we get to this point, there will be growing pains for the residents and traffic,” Peoples said. Thus, drivers of the area should travel with attention to shifting traffic patterns and construction accommodations.

Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study (MACORTS), a board that makes recommendations to GDOT, has long advocated for the changes to improve public safety. According to the 2012 Project Concept Report, “the proposed improvement is needed to accommodate the growing traffic volumes on SR 10/US 78/Lexington Road and improve the roadway capacity. Also, the proposed project is expected to improve traffic operations, as well as reduce vehicle crash frequency and severity.”

The report scrutinized data for 2006, 2007 and 2008, years in which crash rates around the interchange were above the statewide average for similar routes classified as “Minor Urban Arterial.” Additionally, Athens-Clarke County’s growing population and subsequently busying roads necessitate expansion. In 2018, the Average Daily Traffic Volume count on SR 10/US 78/Lexington highway was 30,300. By 2045, the ADT along the route is projected to be 44,500 with a range up to 76,100, which without the currently underway construction would earn the intersection an “F,” or unacceptable, grade of service. 

“My biggest hope is simply that the people on the Eastside will not get caught in endless congestion every day as they leave work or the university,” said Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Carol Myers, who represents the Eastside. “I assume there will always be a little backup at peak hours, but traffic will be smoother, much more logical and less stressful.”

In addition to drivers, users of alternative transportation are poised to benefit from the project. “As a person who uses my bike to get around, I come down on the bike lanes from Barnett Shoals to that intersection. I’m always scared there,” Myers said. “In the short term, it’s going to be difficult. But when this is done, it’ll be a smoother transition for cyclists, for motorists in that whole area and pedestrians as well.”

The project is estimated to cost $24.9 million, with the federal government responsible for 80% and the state paying 20%. 

A different Loop improvement project is underway, too. U.S. Highway 29, past Old Hull Road where the Loop meets Highway 29 and northbound traffic must exit to stay on, is having its twin bridges replaced with taller bridges with 12 foot inside and outside shoulders. The project is approximately two-thirds of a mile long, and detours will be made to accommodate its construction. It is projected to conclude in May 2023.