Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Oconee County Land Use Committee Discusses T-SPLOST Projects, Hears of Citizen Concerns

10 Years and $1.5 Billion

Twenty citizens showed up at the Oconee County Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee meeting tonight, voicing concerns about the widening of Mars Hill Road, the lack of county planning for transportation options for people who cannot drive, a proposed extension of Daniells Bridge Road to fly over SR 10 Loop, and other transportation matters.

The occasion was a public discussion by the Land Use Committee of county priorities for funding by a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which is expected to be on the ballot in August of 2012.

One citizen said, regardless of what the county proposes, that he plans to vote against the sales tax, which would add a penny for every dollar spent to the existing seven-cents-per-dollar sales tax already in place in the county.

He also said he would work to get others to vote against the tax as well.

The 14-member Committee used the first half of the two-hour meeting to learn what the county is doing to prepare for the tax and what projects a committee of county officials thinks should be on the county’s priority list.

Those officials have identified seven major construction projects and nine smaller projects, called safety improvement projects, as the county’s priorities.

The Committee was not asked to take any action on the list, and it didn’t take any.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis, who joined the Committee for the discussion, did indicate that the BOC will take up the list at its March 29 agenda setting meeting. The BOC reviewed the list at its March 1 meeting, but it also took no action.

The final county list is supposed to be turned over to the state for review on March 30.

Wayne Provost

Before that time, the four county officials who made the list reviewed tonight will consider another list or lists from the four cities in the county and incorporate the projects of the cities into a final list for presentation to the BOC.

The four officials are Davis, Wayne Provost, director of strategic and long-range planning for Oconee County, County Administrative Officer Alan Theriault, and Public Works Director Emil Beshara.

Provost and Beshara led the discussion at the Committee meeting tonight.

The list of major projects consists of the widening of Mars Hill Road and Experiment Station Road from SR 316 to Watkinsville (three phases), construction of a grade-separated interchange for SR 316 and the Oconee Connector, the widening of Jimmy Daniel Road from Mars Hill Road to the Clarke County line, the construction of an extension of Daniells Bridge Road with a flyover of SR 10 Loop, and the widening and reconstruction of US 441 to four lanes from the Watkinsville bypass to the Madison bypass.

The safety improvement projects are for Astondale Road, Barnett Shoals Road, Bob Godfrey Road, Clotfelter Road, Colham Ferry Road, Hodges Mill Road, Salem Road, Simonton Bridge Road, and Mars Hill/RockyBranch/Virgil Langford roads.

Bob Isaac, a member of the Committee, raised questions about the Daniells Bridge Road extension and its impact on the residential area along that roadway before citizens were given a chance to speak, and several of those citizens spoke of similar issues.

The project description calls for construction of an extension of Daniells Bridge Road from just north of the Chestnut Hill Road intersection to Jennings Mill Parkway, at Home Depot, across SR 10 Loop.

The new roadway would be four lanes wide, but it would intersect with the existing Daniells Bridge Road, which is only two lanes wide at that point.

Beshara and Provost said the project would include improvements to Daniells Bridge Road, though they are not included in the project description.

Beshara also said that he expected the project, if it involved improvements in Daniells Bridge Road from the extension back to the Oconee Connector, would cost about $30 million, rather than the $10 million price tag for the extension and flyover shown on the project list.

Ralph Johnson, who lives near the Chestnut Hill Road intersection with Daniells Bridge Road, said that the description in the project list and the cost estimate should match with what is really needed. I also live just off Daniells Bridge Road, and I made a similar suggestion to the Committee.

Provost and Beshara defended the existing description and cost estimate as being reflective of what the county has proposed in similar discussions in the past.

Residents of Windy Creek expressed concerns over how the widening of Mars Hill Road will affect access to their subdivision.

One woman, who said she cannot drive because of poor eyesight, asked what the county was doing to include people who do not drive in its transportation planning.

None of the projects on the list dealt with public transit, and only a few of them included sidewalks and bike lanes.

The final list that the county submits to the state will be reviewed by the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission and the Georgia Department of Transportation before going to what is called a regional roundtable.

The roundtable will select projects from the 12-county region--Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Jasper, Madison, Morgan, Newton, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Walton–to be pitched to voters in the tax referendum.

The majority of those voting from the 12-county region must approve the tax for it to be put into place in 2013.

If passed, the tax would remain in place for 10 years and generate an estimated $1.5 billion for transportation projects for the region, according to Provost.