Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
While it may not seem like it, there is light at the end of the tunnel for motorists who travel the Georgia Road in Macon County.
When Ingles opened its new location on the Georgia Road in 2017, they promised a back entrance for delivery trucks to alleviate traffic in and out of the new store. Two entrances were part of the original proposal into the shopping center — one from the Georgia Road with another entrance off of Belden Circle.
The one-lane bridge on Belden Circle was constructed in 1923 and has long since been on the NCDOT’s priority list to be replaced over the next three to five years, but with the proposed Ingles project, that project was pushed to the forefront.
Between the new Ingles and The N.C. Department of Transportation plans to widen and upgrade U.S. 23 / U.S. 441 (Georgia Road) from Belden Circle (S.R. 1152) / Wide Horizon Drive (S.R. 1652) to south of Prentiss Bridge Road (S.R. 1649) in Macon County, the nearly 50-year-old bridge was replaced and as of last week is officially open for traffic.
The Georgia Road widening project will upgrade 2.8 miles of the Macon County highway between Belden Circle/Wide Horizon Drive and Prentiss Bridge Road to a four-lane highway with a median.
The project is intended to increase safety by creating 11-foot wide lanes, bicycle lanes on both sides, and directional cross-overs to reduce the possibility of head-on and T-bone collisions.
The Georgia Road section of U.S.-441 has a crash rate 131 percent higher than the state average for similar highways – and a fatal crash rate nearly four times greater than the state average.
The first phase of the project is estimated to cost $6.3 million with construction to be ongoing over the next two years. Once completed, the DOT will begin the second phase of the project, which will run from Wide Horizon Drive south to Prentiss Bridge Road. That two-mile portion of the project is estimated to cost $31 million.
The bridge opening comes at an opportune time, as construction on the widening project has begun, so having the Belden Circle road operational will provide motorists with an alternate route to alleviate some of the congestion along that stretch of highway.