Sunday, July 19, 2009

Daniells Bridge Road Upgrades Put on Hold by Oconee County

Forget the Flags

Travelers along Daniells Bridge Road can expect to see roadway construction in the next month or two at the intersection with the Oconee Connector, but the county has no firm schedule for doing any additional work on the roadway east of that intersection, according to the head of Public Works for the county.

In December, the county had said it planned to finish by the end of June widening of Daniells Bridge Road to three lanes back to just east of the blind curve.

"Assuming the BOC agrees with our final numbers and approach, I’d like this to be completed before the end of this fiscal year (end of June)," Public Works Director Emil Beshara wrote me on Dec. 3, when I asked him to confirm what he had said at the Board of Commissioners meeting the night before. "Weather could cause delays as could availability of contractors."

Beshara told me in an interviews in his office on July 10 that the county is waiting on further development along Daniells Bridge Roadway before it begins the upgrade it presented to citizens back at the end of last year.

Specifically, Beshara said, the county is waiting to see what happens to the 9.1-acre site just east of the blind curve on Daniells Bridge Road. That piece of property, owned by Dolores N. Lance and Dorothy N. Anglin, was rezoned from agricultural and residential use to Office Business Park on Dec. 2, 2008.

The county said at the time of the rezone of that property that it would upgrade Daniells Bridge Road by making it three lanes wide with a center turn lane to the eastern end of the site.

The county committed $400,000 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money to the project. That money had previously been dedicated only for improvements to the Daniells Bridge Road and Oconee Connector intersection.

Beshara said in my interview with him on July 10 that the county does not have enough money to do the full upgrade it presented to the public at the Dec. 2 BOC meeting. Some of that money, he said, must come from the developers of the Lance and Anglin site, who agreed, as is usual in such cases, to make roadway improvements as part of their request for the rezone.

"There is no way we could do this project start to finish with only $400,000," Beshara told me in the interview.

As of this writing, the 9.1 acres remain in the hands of Lance and Anglin, according to the county tax records. Because of the rezone, however, its value has increased from $349,267 to $637,000 for 2009.

When the property was rezoned, Stephen D. Jenkins and Edward Nichols of Athens proposed to build a two-story office building on the site to be known as Perimeter Center. According to documents filed with the rezone request, infrastructure construction plans were expected to be approved by June of 2009, and total build-out was to be completed by January of 2011.

Nothing has been done since the rezone, and the Lance and Anglin property remains the only property east of the blind curve on Daniells Bridge Road that is not agricultural or residential, shown in green, blue or white on the county zoning map.

Lance and Anglin first asked for the rezone in May of 2007, and residents in the subdivisions around the site protested that the development was unsafe because it is located just east of the blind curve on Daniells Bridge Road as the road nearly touches the entrance to SR Loop 10 off SR 316 East.

The BOC turned down that rezone.

Lance and Anglin filed suit against the county, and the matter came back before the board in the fall of 2008 as part of that settlement. More than 400 individuals signed another petition against the rezone, but this time the board approved the rezone after asking Beshara to present it with redesign plans for the roadway.

Just after the rezone, small flags appeared in the right of way on both sides of Daniells Bridge Road, making it seem that some action on the roadway improvements was imminent.

"What you saw out there on the ground starting back in December was the utility location process," Beshara said on July 10. "All those flags out there identified the exact locations of the various underground utilities, including fiber optic, gas, power, telephone, what have you. All those had to be surveyed."

The purpose was to determine which of these, if any, would have to be moved, Beshara said. In the end, it turned out that just a couple "would be under asphalt" and will have to be relocated, he said.

He said when I talked to him that he had not yet seen final plans, being prepared by ABE Consulting. Abe Abouhamdan, the president of ABE Consulting and winner of the bid for design of the widening of the road, also is chairman of the county’s Land use and Transportation Committee.

ABE Consulting is "about 95 percent completed with the design," Beshara told me in the interview.

Beshara said the county road crews might do some paving at those places on Daniells Bridge Road that are now only two lanes wide "if they have a week where they are caught up with their maintenance activities."

In the meantime, he said, citizens will see work being done at the Oconee Connector and Daniells Bridge Road intersection, where QuikTrip plans to build a gas station and convenience store.

Beshara said he expects QuikTrip to start filling the site and adding turn lanes along both roadways within the next six to eight weeks.

The county will then do some similar work to add lanes on the opposite side of the Connector, he said.

QuikTrip will have two entrances, one on the Oconee Connector and the other on Daniells Bridge Road. At some point in the future, a median will be added to the connector, Beshara said at the hearing on the QuikTrip plans on June 2.

At that point, traffic entering the station heading south on the Connector will have to enter the station via the Daniells Bridge Road entrance.

Beshara at that June 2 meeting expressed concern over safety of the Oconee Connector entrance because traffic will be entering the station after crossing two lanes of traffic on the Connector heading north to SR 316.

The long-range plan is for Daniells Bridge Road to be five lanes wide, with two lanes in each direction and a center turn lane. Daniells Bridge Road will serve as the southern part of a loop road circling the busy SR 316 connection with SR Loop 10.

Construction of the northern part of that loop will begin soon, but the southern part will require a second flyover of Loop 10, and Beshara said that probably won’t happen until between 2020 to 2025.

The plans to make Daniells Bridge Road three lanes wide will serve as a stopgap.

Reconstruction of Daniells Bridge Road as part of the QuikTrip roadway will only result in four lanes–two on the north, a center lane, and one on the south, according to Beshara.

It will not be possible to make Daniells Bridge Road any wider than three lanes through the blind curve without taking additional right of way from property along the roadway, Beshara said at the Dec. 2 BOC meeting and again in my conversation with him earlier this month.

An option, which Beshara acknowledged both before the BOC and to me again, was to create a new roadway behind the existing houses on Daniells Bridge Road. This would have the effect of eliminating the curve in the roadway.

The county has never made public a full map of this "circle" route, and I asked Beshara if he had any to make available.

He said he had a drawing of the full loop that he created for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) in April of this year. He gave me an electronic copy of that map.

The blind curve on Daniells Bridge Road is the result of the construction of SR 316 and SR Loop 10.

Beshara showed me a copy of a GDOT map of the County from 1972. A blowup of the map shows Daniells Bridge Road intersecting with Epps Bridge Road and then circling back around to meet Mars Hill Road near the current intersection.

I began the interview on July 10 by telling Beshara "I was trying to get a picture of what the status of the Daniells Bridge Road upgrade is."

In answering, he referred first to the drawings that had been done by ABE Consulting and then started talking about the work at the QuikTrip site.

About 20 minutes into the 45-minute conversation, I asked again about plans for the work discussed when the Lance and Anglin site was rezoned. I’ve edited the next seven minutes of the interview, and it is available for listening and download on my site.

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