Houston County Commissioners signed off on a contract with the state Department of Transportation Wednesday, to widen Highway 96 from two to four lanes.
They signed off on $19.5 million approved by voters in a 2006 SPLOST.
Commission Chairman Ned Sanders said the county offered the money to GDOT to "sweeten the pot." He said the local contribution helped move the Highway 96 project to the top of GDOT's priority list.
Highway 96 connects I-75 to I-16 through Houston and Twiggs counties. It's a major route for trucks traveling to Savannah, and has seen a boom in residential and commercial growth in the past ten years.
Nichole MacMillan plans to serve her first cup at Bare Bulb Coffee Shop Thursday. She said, "We looked at the population density and the new growth, and decided this is the place we wanted to be."
She's located at the corner of Highway 96 and Lake Joy Road, a few doors down from the new movie theater.
The shopping center is near the corner, where county commissioners want road widening to start., because of heavy congestion.
The initial phase of construction will stretch from Lake Joy Road to Moody Road. Then, they will focus on work from 1-75 to Lake Joy Road. The final phase covers the route from Moody Road to Old Hawkinsville Road.
Some parts of the road will have raised concrete medians. Those sections will be 24 feet wide, according to Sanders. He said other parts of the road will be 44 feet wide, with grass medians. Sanders said the highway will have curb and gutters, and there will be 16 traffic lights along the road.
Sanders said, "The traffic is there now. We don't want gridlock and traffic that is intolerable."
The last phase will be the most expensive phase and cuts through the heart of Bonaire.
The original maps called for building an interchange on top of what's now James Wilkes' mechanic shop.
Wilkes said, "If they put a bridge here, it would've taken my property, and I don't want to leave."
The latest plans moved the interchange north along Highway 247. Current maps show four homes will have to be demolished for that project.
Wilkes' work and other businesses will be still affected by the interchange. Highway 96 will be moved west and no longer running past his corner, at the intersection of Highway 96 and Highway 247.
Wilkes said, "Flash Foods and Subway and used to be Davidson's. It's going to devastate them."
Ned Sanders said they made the change to relieve traffic from Robins Air Force Base and avoid the rail road tracks.
He said despite some claims Governor Sonny Perdue, who owns property in the area, didn't influence the latest plans for the interchange.
Sanders said, "I didn't discuss it with Governor Perdue. I don't know of anyone else who did quite frankly."
This summer, GDOT began contacting homeowners along Highway 96 to clear the right-of-way. Construction is slated to begin in December 2012.