Sunday, September 04, 2011

Thursday Meeting at Civic Center Offers Citizens Chance to Review T-SPLOST Project Plans

Some Still in Concept Stage

The Northeast Georgia Regional Transportation Roundtable will give Oconee County and other citizens a chance on Thursday night to preview the list of projects likely to be before voters next August as part of the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum.

Included are improvements to five different Oconee County roads: Mars Hill Road/Experiment Station Road, the Oconee Connector, Daniells Bridge Road, Simonton Bridge Road and Jimmy Daniell Road.

Voters will be asked to approve another one cent on the dollar in sales tax to cover the costs of improvements to these roads as well as for 62 other transportation projects spread across 10 of the 11 other counties that make up the Northeast Georgia Regional Transportation tax district.

The tax will run for 10 years.

Oconee Connector/SR 316 Interchange

Oconee County is lumped with Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Jasper, Madison, Morgan, Newton, Oglethorpe and Walton counties to create a special transportation tax district. Oglethorpe has no project on the list.

If the referendum passes, the projects on the list will be funded by 75 percent of the revenue from the tax. The remaining 25 percent of the revenue will be returned to the counties and cities for transportation projects, based on a formula reflecting road miles.

The list was approved initially by the Regional Roundtable, which includes Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis and Watkinsville Mayor Joe Walter.

Davis also is one of five members of that group serving on its executive committee.

The final list of projects is to be approved by the regional roundtable on Oct. 15, and the meeting on Thursday night is one of three scheduled to get preliminary citizen feedback before that date.

The Thursday meeting will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Oconee County Civic Center, 2551 Hog Mountain Road.

The others will be Sept. 13 at Crawford Depot and Sept. 22 at Georgia Perimeter College.

According to a news release, no formal presentation will be made at the meeting. Rather, citizens will be able to view maps and discuss specific projects with members of the Roundtable.

Details about the projects at present are sketchy.

On Aug. 15, the state released what it called a Constrained Draft Investment List Report for the Northeast Georgia district, which contained some general information on the projects.

The Mars Hill Road/Experiment Station Road widening is listed as three separate projects, with the first phase from SR 316 to Hog Mountain Road, the second stage from Hog Mountain Road to U.S. 441, and the third phase from US 441 to Watkinsville.

The route in the last two stages is along Experiment Station Road, since Mars Hill Road ends at Hog Mountain Road in Butler’s Crossing.

Oconee County listed the total cost of the first phase of this project at $53.1 million in the documents it submitted in March requesting inclusion on the list. The Draft Investment List Report puts the total cost at $25.8 million and commits only $6.0 million from T-SPLOST revenues.

The remainder, the report says, will come from other sources.

The county listed the second phase at $9.0 million. The Draft Investment List Report shows the total cost at $14.6 million and commits $5.0 million from T-SPLOST funds.

The third phase, according to the county list, would cost about $4.5 million. The List Report shows the cost as $9.3 million and commits $5.0 million in T-SPLOST funds.

The list the county submitted in March said the Oconee Connector Extension interchange with SR 316 would cost $25.0 million. The state listed the cost at $20.0 million and said all of that would come from T-SPLOST monies.

The interchange would not be a full cloverleaf. Drivers traveling north and south on the Oconee Connector would have to cross traffic to get onto SR 316. (See map above, taken from the Draft Investment List Report.)

In addition, the interchange includes only one exit onto the Connector from SR 316 heading west, suggesting drivers will not be able to turn north onto the Connector in the direction of the shopping areas planned along that route in the future.

The county asked that Jimmy Daniell Road be widened to four lanes with additional turn lanes as needed from Mars Hill Road to the Clarke County line. The cost was put at about $10.6 million.

The Draft Investment List Report commits $3.0 million in T-SPLOST funds to a reduced project of that cost that would include only adding center turn lanes and widening shoulders on Jimmy Daniell Road from Mars Hill Road to the Clarke County line.

The county had asked for $9.1 million to widen and reconstruct Daniells Bridge Road with additional turns lanes as needed from Chestnut Hill Road to Hog Mountain Road.

The List Report commits $1.0 million in T-SPLOST funds for a reduced project calling for improvements to the road making the lanes 12 feet wide and making intersection improvements.

The county asked for $1.0 million to widen Simonton Bridge Road to 12 feet lanes from Watkinsville to the Clarke County line.

The List Report commits $1.5 million to widening of the road and construction of turn lanes at major intersections.

Total amount of T-SPLOST funds that will come to the county from these seven projects will be $41.5 million.

Oconee County officials submitted a wish list of 26 projects back on March 30 containing eight capital projects, 12 safety improvement projects, and six projects inside the county’s cities.

Included were three projects for Watkinsville, two for Bogart and one for Bishop. North High Shoals did not submit a project.

The total cost of the 26 Oconee County and city regional projects was $369.8 million.

The Mars Hill Road, Oconee Connector and Jimmy Daniell Road projects were on a Capital improvement list, while the Daniells Bridge Road and Simonton Bridge Road projects were on a safety improvement project list.

None of the city projects was included by the Roundtable in the final list.

The final list to be submitted to voters has to be designed to appeal to the largest number of voters in the 12-county district.

Oconee County accounts for only about 7 percent of those voters.

Clarke Count has about 19 percent of the voters, followed by Newton with 18 percent, Walton with 16 percent and Barrow with 11 percent.

In addition to the SR 316 interchange at the Oconee Connector, the list includes interchanges on SR 316 at SR 11 and at SR 81, both in Barrow County.

These three interchange improvements on the major route into Athens from Atlanta should be of appeal to Athens/Clarke County voters as well as voters in Jackson, Madison and Oglethorpe counties.

Oconee actually had asked for two more SR 316 interchanges, at Jimmy Daniell Road and somewhere between Pete Dickens Road and McNutt Creek Road. Those were scratched.

And even with the improvements, SR 316 will be far from a limited access roadway.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Davis has made it clear what he thinks citizens should conclude about the list that will be before voters next August.

“I am very pleased to see significant Oconee projects on this list,” he wrote in his Aug. 26 column on the Oconee County website. “I do not see how these projects may be completed without voter approval for T-SPLOST.”

Davis wrote that Oconee County “will be receiving approximately $80 million worth of projects” over the 10-year period “should the referendum be successful.”

The total cost of the projects included on the The Draft Investment List Report list is $75.2 million, but only $41.5 million of that will come from the T-SPLOST funds, according to that same report.

Davis wrote in his column that “sidewalks will be added to the Simonton Bridge Road within the Watkinsville city limits” and that the improvement to “Daniells Bridge Road is very important since we expect that it will become an alternate route while Mars Hill Road is under construction.”

I live just off Daniells Bridge Road in the area of the proposed improvements.

I asked Emil Beshara, head of the Oconee County Public Works Department, in an email message on Thursday, if I could review the plans for Daniells Bridge Road and Simonton Bridge Road before the meeting this week.

“There are no existing plans,” he wrote back. “These are only in the concept stage.”


Oconee Democratic said...

Lee, is the Simonton Bridge road project the widening or the by-pass (or some combination thereof?)

Lee Becker said...

It is only for widening of the road, not the bypass.