I-16 widening project causing more lane closures, headache for small businesses

Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 7:12 AM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A new set of lane closures scheduled this week could mean longer commute times for drivers.

Crews are still working on the I-16 widening project and the 16/I-95 interchange.

Right now the lanes on I-16 have shifted into a curvy pattern, but it’s not permanent.

Within the last several weeks, crews have finished demolishing the old I-95/I-16 overpass bridge and have started building a new one, which will be to the west of where you drive now.

There’s also been progress on the I-16 widening. You might notice it on I-16 east right after you pass I-95.

The projects have been going on since 2020, and GDOT is projecting that they’ll be fully completed by summer of 2024.

In the meantime- they’re asking for patience from drivers while they continue work- and also want to remind everyone to slow down in zones with construction workers, particularly at night.

“Once you get closer into the interchange, a lot of that’s going to be night work. For them to rebuild and create a brand new bridge, they’re going to have to mess with traffic a little big on 16 while that process is going on, so just be mindful of that. And please slow down too. Construction zones have a lower speed limit. We always have issues with people not abiding by that, going 15, 20 over in the area. It’s a safety concern when people are doing that,” said Kyle Collins with Georgia Department of Transportation.

This week there will be intermittent lane closures in both directions on I-16 from 516 to 95, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will also be lane closures on I-16 from 516, several miles to the east from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. From 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., there will also be intermittent closures in both directions on I-16 from 516 to 95.

The 16 widening and 95 interchange projects aren’t the only major ones going on in that corridor. There’s also the Dean Forest Road diverging diamond project, which is taking longer than slated, and it’s affecting businesses in the area.

Back in February, we told you about how the construction is hurting business at Ronnie’s Restaurant. Six months later, they say it’s gotten even worse.

They were forced to move their entrance. The owners tell us customers are having trouble finding them now, and it’s killing their business.

“I’ve never seen it this slow.”

What owners say used to be a regularly packed house, is now empty during breakfast. In an hours’ time - not one customer walked through the door.

“The reduction in volume of customers has almost put me out of business, more than once actually. I almost had to consider bankruptcy a few times,” said owner Shawn Apfel.

Apfel says raising prices and cutting his staff in half has kept him afloat, for now.

He’s tried to put up signs showing customers how to get in and out of the restaurant, but he says even that’s been a headache.

“Pooler code enforcement came by and said we had to take it down because we didn’t have a permit for the signage.”

Apfel says he can’t get a straight answer. Construction workers originally told him the project would be finished a year ago.

G-DOT now tells us it will be done at the end of this year.

“We’re doing our best to advance them and push the construction partner to advance to completion because we know it’s a headache for the residents and the business owners in that corridor,” said Collins.

Apfel says he just wants them to finish the job. But he also feels something should be done, to keep this from happening, to other small businesses.

“I’ll be happy to see a new traffic pattern out here because it’s dangerous and the traffic backs up, but I don’t really feel like me and the other guys should have to pay the price for it.”

Collins says GDOT does have the right to penalize contractors for taking an excessive amount of time to finish projects and that it’s still on the table.