Road project will put a new spin on tire tracks through downtown

After 15 years and the death of two projects, Augusta will begin working on an accessibility and efficiency project to move traffic from the suburbs to downtown’s medical community.

The St. Sebastian Way connector is a new road system that is going to feed off Riverwatch Parkway and drop travelers into the middle of the medical complex. It’s going to bypass the trains, too. When that happens, it will drastically change how downtown moves, said Braye Boardman, president of Beacon Blue, LLC and past president of Augusta Tomorrow.

The transportation plan is a complex web that George Patty, executive director of planning and zoning for the county, boiled down to three components: A Greene Street connector to Walton Way at St. Sebastian, an extension of Greene Street that will run along the railroad tracks up onto Riverwatch Parkway and an extension at the end of St. Sebastian to the 1400 block of Reynolds Street.

It also involved six bridges, the relocation of a major Georgia Power distribution center and rights of way for more than 40 parcels of land. The system will snake over the Augusta Canal and under Calhoun Expressway.

From Furys Ferry Road, drivers will get on Riverwatch Parkway and they’ll get off on the new ramps that will go over the railroad. They’ll come down in front of the transit terminal, and progress along the canal to St. Sebastian and end up at the parking garage at the heart of the medical complex, Patty explained. They won’t have to negotiate all of the intersections around that area.

A concern is that traffic will also bypass the historic residential sections of the city’s downtown, like Harrisburg and West End, along with street-level storefront businesses, which has raised some concerns. There are 895 businesses employing approximately 17,476 people located downtown, according to the Downtown Development Authority (DDA). The service sector accounts for the largest share of businesses and jobs.

I guess that’s a glamorous way of saying what some of the commissioners felt — that this is a Columbia County project. It does benefit those who come into the area from Columbia County, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, Patty said.

Anything that makes downtown Augusta and the medical complex accessible is good for everybody, he said. It might provide some sort of incentive to keep some functions of the medical complex downtown instead of somewhere else, which might be either Athens or Columbia County.

The DDA believes it will benefit the city in the long run. Executive Director Margaret Woodard believes that the project is a pre-emptive strike against accessibility issues that are bound to arise once projects like the TEE Center, the new judicial complex and the Kroc center are underway.

The worst thing that can happen is that we don’t prepare for it, she said, and people have a bad time and don’t come back. When you have growth, there are going to be inconveniences, and that’s a good challenge to have, Woodard added. She thinks the right people are on the project, including Patty, who is the executive director of the Augusta Richmond County Historic Preservation Committee.

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