Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oconee Commissioners Add and Subtract Projects from T-SPLOST List

Loop 10 Flyover Scuttled

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners tonight made significant changes to the list of projects the county will send forward for potential inclusion in the 2012 Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum.

The Board eliminated the Daniells Bridge Road Extension and flyover of SR Loop 10 entirely after protest from citizens in the area, scratched the widening of US 441 in the south of the county, and added three new projects to the list of capital projects.

Added to the capital project list were an entrance to Gainesville State College from the U.S. 441 Bypass of Watkinsville on an extension of Bishop Farms Parkway, which now is the only access to the college.

Also added were the upgrade of two interchanges on SR 316, one at Jimmy Daniell Road and the other at McNutt Creek Road. The upgraded SR 316 interchanges would be grade separated, meaning they would include a bridge.

Already on the list was a grade separated upgrade of the SR 316 interchange at the Oconee Connector.

The top three projects on the list remain the three phases of the widening of Mars Hill Road from SR 316 to Watkinsville.

The Oconee Connector interchange is ranked fourth, followed by the widening of Jimmy Daniell Road, the entrance to Gainesville State College and the Jimmy Daniell and McNutt Creek Road interchanges.

The list now goes to the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission and the Georgia Department of Transportation for review.

Commissioners Chuck Horton and Margaret Hale took the lead in eliminating the Daniells Bridge Road Extension, saying they were responding to feedback from people in the neighborhood who opposed the project.

Three persons, including me, spoke at the meeting tonight about that project and asked that it be eliminated or expanded to include significant additional improvements to the existing Daniells Bridge Road.

The proposed extension would have been four lanes wide and would have deposited traffic on a two-lane Daniells Bridge Road.

The county has said it cannot widen Daniells Bridge Road from Chestnut Hill Road to the Oconee Connector to four lane in the existing right of way.

Commissioner John Daniell said that while he agreed to pull the project from the list, that did not mean that the flyover would not be built at some point in the future. It is part of the county’s commitment to expand the commercial hub at the SR Loop 10 and SR 316 interchange, he said.

Commissioner Jim Luke was the advocate for addition of the SR 316 interchanges. He said he felt everyone in the county agreed that the roadway needs to be upgraded for safety reasons.

BOC Chairman Melvin Davis had added the Gainesville College interchange to the list via an email message he sent to the other commissioners on March 23.

The original list had been created by Davis, county Administrative Officer Alan Theriault, Strategic and Long-Range Planning Director Wayne Provost, and Public Works Director Emil Beshara and had been presented to the BOC on March 1.

Davis and the three other administrators also had created a list of nine additional project, labeled as Safety Improvement Projects, for that same meeting.

Tonight Beshara and Provost gave the Board a revised list with three additional projects, the widening and reconstruction of Daniells Bridge Road from Chestnut Hill Road to Hog Mountain Road, the widening of Union Church Road, and upgrades to 10 rail crossings in the county.

That list was approved by the BOC without alteration.

The three projects of the city of Watkinsville, an extension of Simonton Bridge Road to route traffic around downtown, sidewalks for Simonton Bridge Road and sidewalks for Harden Hill Road, also were forwarded to NEGRC and GDOT.

Two last minute additions to the list from Bogart also were passed forward. They are for improvements to the Burson Avenue and Atlanta Highway interchange and widening of Osceola Avenue.

After the review by the regional commission and GDOT, the Oconee list will go to a regional roundtable, which will merge the requests with those of the 11 other counties in the regional transportation district.

It also will pare down the lists to reflect projected revenue from the tax.

The other counties are Barrow, Clarke, Jackson, Walton, Greene, Jasper, Morgan, Newton, Elbert, Madison and Oglethrope.

In August of 2012, voters in those 12 counties will be asked to approve an increase in sales tax of one penny on the dollar to fund the list of transportation projects agreed upon by the roundtable.

The tax, if approved by the majority of voters in the district, will run for 10 years.

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