Sunday, March 06, 2011

Oconee County Land Use Committee To Review Transportation Priority List

Unclear If BOC Involved

The list of seven road projects that the Oconee County Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee will review on Tuesday night was produced by a small group of county officials to represent to the state the county’s transportation funding priorities through 2013.

The county still must address any requests from its four cities and create a list to go to the Georgia Department of Transportation by the end of the month.

Ultimately, the Oconee County list must be meshed with lists created by 11 other counties in Northeast Georgia to produce a unified list to go before voters in August of 2012.

The expectation is that voters will be asked at that time to approve a sales tax increase of one cent on the dollar to fund transportation projects in the 12-county region.

If voters in the region approve, the sales tax in Oconee County would increase to eight cents on the dollar.

Wayne Provost, director of strategic and long-range planning for Oconee County, told me on Friday that he, Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis, County Administrative Officer Alan Theriault and Public Works Director Emil Beshara produced the list of projects that will be before the citizen committee on Tuesday night.

He said the group met and exchanged information before agreeing on the seven projects.

Provost presented the list to the BOC at its regular meeting on March 1, but the BOC took no action.

The Land Use Committee meeting on Tuesday is the first chance that the public will have to react to the proposed road projects.

Most of the projects on the list have been on other lists of road priorities for the county.

The widening of Mars Hill Road and Experiment Station Road from SR 316 to Watkinsville is at the top of the list. The project has been broken into three phases, and these three are listed as the top three county priorities.

The first phase–and top priority according to the list–is the widening of Mars Hill Road from SR 316 to Hog Mountain Road in Butler’s Crossing.

The second phase is the widening of Experiment Station Road from Hog Mountain Road to the US 441 bypass around Watkinsville.

The third phase is the widening of Experiment Station Road from the bypass to Main Street in downtown Watkinsville.

The widening will be to four lanes and will include sidewalks and bike lanes. Total cost of the three phases is estimated at $66.6 million.

The fourth project is a new interchange for SR 316 and the Oconee Connector, using grade separation, meaning traffic on one of the roads would be a different level from traffic on another. The cost is projected at $25 million

The fifth project on the list is the widening of Jimmy Daniel Road from Mars Hill Road to the Clarke County line to four lanes, with sidewalks. The project is expected to cost $10.6 million.

The construction of an extension of Daniells Bridge Road is the sixth project on the list, and it would include a flyover of SR 10 Loop to connect the existing Daniells Bridge Road with Jennings Mill Parkway where it dead ends at Home Depot.

The extension, according to the project description, would begin just north of the Chestnut Hill Road intersection with Daniells Bridge Road and consist of four lanes and sidewalks.

It also would include signals at the intersection of Daniells Bridge Road Extension with the existing Daniells Bridge Road and at the Daniells Bridge Road and Chestnut Hill Road intersection.

The project, expected to cost $10 million, does not include any upgrades to the existing Daniells Bridge Road, which is two lanes wide at that point.

The final project on the list is the realignment, widening and reconstructioin of US 441 to four lanes from the Watkinsville bypass to the Madison bypass. The cost of this project is estimated at $175 million.

According to Provost, the county has final say on the list that must be submitted by March 30.

Provost said he isn’t sure if the list will go back to the BOC for a vote at its March 29 agenda setting meeting or will be forwarded without further public review after the meeting on Tuesday night.

The meeting of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee, made up of 14 citizens from the county appointed by the BOC, is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Community Center in Veterans Park.

The County actually submits the list on March 30 to the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, which then passes it to GDOT.

NEGRC represents the same 12 counties that make up the region for the transportation vote: Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Jasper, Madison, Morgan, Newton, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Walton.

The Georgia Transportation Investment Act of 2010, passed by the General Assembly last year, creates regions around the state for the purposes of passing what is being called a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

The regions have a great incentive to put the tax before the voters. If they do so, they not only get the designated projects funded, but the counties get additional revenues from the state for use for their own road projects.

And if the regions do not put the tax before the voters, or if the voters turn down the tax, the state will decrease the amount of funding it currently provides to the affected counties for their road projects.

The list that Oconee County will submit on March 30 is not constrained by the amount of money the tax will generate for the region.

A group called a regional roundtable will review the lists submitted by the 12 counties and decide which ones are to be put before the voters and at what levels, given the revenues the tax will produce.

The roundtable is made up of the chairman of the county commission in each of the counties and one mayor from each county.

Oconee County is represented on the Northeast Georgia roundtable by Davis and by Watkinsville Mayor Joe Walter.

The tax, if approved by voters in 2012, will run from 2013 to 2023.

Provost told me on Friday that he, Davis, Theriault and Beshara were constrained in creation of the list by the criteria set out by the state.

The project has to be “regional in character” and “deliverable in 10 years,” he said.

Four of the seven projects on the list, the three phases of widening of Mars Hill Road and the Daniells Bridge Road Extension, are on the priority list of projects for the Madison Athens-Clarke Oconee Regional Transportation Study (MACORTS)for Oconee County 2010 through 2015.

According to an outline of the seven projects on the priority list that Provost released to the BOC on March 1, the Mars Hill Road project is needed to accommodate additional traffic and provide a needed linkage between Watkinsville and SR 316.

The upgrade of the SR 316 and Oconee Connector interchange is needed because the “existing at grade intersection currently operates beyond design capacity.”

The widening of Jimmy Daniel Road also will improve the linkage between Watkinsville and SR 316 and West Athens, the document states.

The Daniells Bridge Road Extension “will remove a significant volume of local traffic” from the SR316/SR Loop 10 interchange and Oconee Connector/SR 316 intersection by providing an alternative route from Watkinsville to Athens and Epps Bridge Parkway, according to the document.

The widening of US 441 is needed to remove the last two-lane section of that roadway in North Georgia, Provost’s document stated.