MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — A special blue-ribbon ceremony was held Monday morning to mark the official opening of the Fall Line Freeway to motorists in both Baldwin and Wilkinson counties.
Several local and state dignitaries attended the ceremony that happened along the new bridges that connect the new $78 million freeway over the Oconee River.
Jimmy Smith, P.E. district engineer with the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Tennile District Office, welcomed everyone that attended the special ceremony, and introduced special guests.
Baldwin County Commission Chairman Sammy Hall was among the guest speakers at the event.
“I think it was a great day in Baldwin County,” Hall told The Union-Recorder. “I think the opening went extremely well. It’s a beautiful asset to our community to have those new bridges and the Fall Line Freeway.”
Hall said one of the great things about it is that Baldwin County residents and thousands of other motorists now have another route to take in the event the other main bridge in Milledgeville was to ever be closed for any particular reason.
“We have needed a second way to cross the river for a long time,” Hall said. “So now we have a second avenue to get across that river. And that’s important in the event there were to be some kind of emergency from day-to-day. We’ve now got a second way to get across that river.”
Hall also believes the new freeway will alleviate some of the heavy truck traffic coming through parts of Baldwin County and downtown Milledgeville.
“I don’t think it will deter people coming to shop in Milledgeville,” Hall said, noting believes the new freeway will sent some of that kind of traffic away from the center of the city.
Hall said he also believes the new Fall Line Freeway will be an asset for future economic development in Milledgeville and Baldwin County.
“One of our major problems to attracting new industry has always been that we didn’t have access to an interstate,” Hall said. “But now we have the Fall Line Freeway, we have a more direct access to I-75. We also can turn traffic down U.S. Highway 441 to get to I-16. Even going east, it’s going to now be closer to Augusta to get to I-20.”
From that standpoint, Hall said be believes that would help bring future economic growth to the area.
Hall also believes city-county interests in the new Mega Industrial site near the freeway and the joint industrial development partnership between Baldwin and Wilkinson counties, located just a few miles away, will both greatly benefit with the possibility of new industry at those sites in years to come.
Mike Couch, meanwhile, believes the freeway will benefit the campus of Central State Hospital in the immediate future.
“The opening of the Fall Line Freeway establishes that critical link with the CSH campus and both I-16 and I-75,” said Couch, executive director of Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority. “Located just one-minute from our southern boundary, the Fall Line will make the CSH campus far more attractive with regards to ingress and egress to and from Central State.”
Other comments during the ceremony came from GDOT Board Vice-Chairman Jamie Boswell, as well as from Mark Johnnie, vice-president and Southeast Regional Manager with Balfour Beaty Infrastructure, the firm contracted by the state to make the new freeway a reality.
Other dignitaries on-hand at the ceremony included state Rep. Rusty Kidd (I-Milledgeville), as well as State Rep. Bubber Epps, Mack Jackson, and state House District 145 candidates Floyd L. Griffin Jr. and Rick Williams.
The new freeway stretches from Georgia’s east border of Augusta to the state’s western boarder of Columbus.
“We are now just 40 minutes away from three interstates: 1-20, 1-16 and I-75,” Kidd said.
Kidd, a veteran state lawmaker, who decided to withdraw from seeking another term as a legislator, said he was hopeful that the new freeway would attract new corporations to middle Georgia and specifically to Milledgeville and Baldwin County.
“It will definitely make downtown Milledgeville quieter, because the 18-wheelers that now go straight through downtown will be able to use the new freeway – going both east and west,” Kidd said. “Now our economic development (officials) cannot say we lost it because we were not on an interstate.”
Kidd urged those officials to get to work and find new companies and industry willing to settle in Milledgeville and Baldwin County and bring new jobs.
“Only time will tell, but yes, the opening of the Fall Line Freeway should attract some new industry to our area and bring with it hundreds of new jobs,” Kidd said.