Georgia’s Department of Transportation wants to increase the capacity of Interstate 85 by 50 percent through Jackson and Barrow counties and part of Gwinnett.
Residents got their first look at the proposal Tuesday during an open house at Mill Creek High School. For most of the 24 miles from the I-985 interchange in Gwinnett County to the U.S. Highway 129 intersection in Jackson County, the DOT will add a third lane in each direction.
A few miles on the southernmost part of the project already have three lanes. That part will get new lane markers to set off an extension of the pay lanes.
DOT spokesperson Katie Strickland said the project will increase the highway’s daily capacity to 118,000 vehicles.
“We are planning for 20 years’ worth of traffic,” she said.
The interstate has only the original two lanes in each direction. When it was built more than 50 years ago, those two lanes offered an excess of capacity. But population growth, and more people wanting to commute from the northern reaches of Lake Lanier, left it as one of the most congested places in the metro area.
The first part of the project will reach to Georgia Highway 211 in Barrow County. The DOT plans to seek bids in July and hopes to begin construction in 2018. It should be complete by 2020.
The second part, from Ga. 211 to U.S. 129, is scheduled for construction in 2024.
The estimated cost is $313 million.
Strickland said there will be some pain for drivers during construction. Bridges over I-85 at Spout Springs Road, Flowery Branch Road, Jessie Cronic Road and Ga. 332 will be rebuilt. That will require detours of several months at each location.
The Spout Springs Road is very near Mill Creek High School, the state’s largest with almost 4,000 students, promising even more difficult traffic mornings and afternoons.
Brothers Kennie and Darrell Capps, from Braselton, said the project is needed and will be worth the hassle during construction.
“I think it needs to be done because there is just so much traffic,” Darrell Capps said. “Once it is done, it will be so much better.”